CARNIVORE 2 Lady Killer: Camas Davis Lauren Yoshiko Join the Conversation CAMAS DAVIS CHALLENGES PEOPLE TO THINK ABOUT THEIR CONNECTION TO THE DINNER PLATE Photos by Tim Jackson Camas Davis doesn’t beat around the bush. “I’m the person who asks why we aren’t talking about the elephant in the room. The elephant in this room is the fact that animals have to be killed in order for us to eat meat,” she says. Davis, a small-town Oregon native and magazine editor turned butcher, is the founder of the Portland Meat Collective, an educational program made up of hands-on courses taught by butchers and chefs — the first of its kind. Following a sudden layoff from her magazine job, Davis had left home for a new sense of purpose, buying a ticket to France with the last bit of credit card funds to indulge her secret fantasy of becoming a butcher. Her experiences inspired her to connect the dots between farmers, butchers, and people who want to eat meat the right way, the entertaining details of which are revealed in her recently published book, Killing It: An Education. True to Davis’ straight-to-the-point nature, the book begins with a graphic description of a 700-pound sow being lifted from a gargantuan tub of boiling water and subsequently dropped on the cement floor by accident, the mechanical hand losing its grip on the slippery girth. As Davis observes the French butcher sticking the pig with a long knife-now successfully suspended so gravity could bring the blood from the pig to a bucket — she writes of the many ways to state what had happened … “There are so many ways to say it or think it, all loaded: She had no more life to give. She had passed. She gave her life. Someone took her life from her. They killed her. They slaughtered her. They harvested her. They murdered her … But here, in this moment, she was, quite simply, dead.” While the tagline for Killing It essentially reads “woman loses her job as a food editor and runs away to France to become a butcher,” any associations related to Eat, Pray, Love are quickly extinguished in this opening passage. Davis’ honest, straightforward memoir of an education among the farmers and butchers of Gascony presents an alternative to the Styrofoam-wrapped, color-dyed meat products that fill American fridges, and that alternative requires facing and accepting the death required to put your burger between a couple of bits of bread. In a post-Food Inc. world, there may be a few more vegetarians and vegans, but the population of meat eaters isn’t really decreasing. So vegetarians continue to condemn carnivores, and carnivores turn away from the issue of factory farming in disinterest or discomfort. Davis wants to get people to face that awkward uncomfortability head on, and if they don’t like what they see, empower them to start doing it themselves. “That uncomfortability is precisely the problem. We all support systems that we’re horrified by because we choose not to be involved. Choose to not know more,” Davis says. Knowledge is power, and for Davis, a proper education began with a knife and a carcass. In France, she learned about making use of the whole animal, not just in restaurants and butcher shops, but in the home as well. She met farmers who owned every part of the process: the slaughter, the butchery, the charcuterie, and the sales. Later on in Killing It, Davis recalls her own moment of facing the reality of being a carnivore when learning how to make boudin noir — blood sausage. Her mind races as she prepares to slowly pour the bucket of still-warm blood in with the rest of the ingredients. In this moment, “the act of cringing felt like the very opposite of understanding,” Davis writes. “That bucket of blood helped me to understand how cringing can prevent us from thinking and feeling. For what is a cringe but an attempt to separate ourselves from the animal world, from the not-so-pleasant ways some of our food gets to our tables?” She didn’t cringe, and she managed to savor a bite of blood sausage later that day — sans regrets. That summer transformed her approach to meat production and meat eating. Upon her return to Portland, Davis picked up a job at a local butcher shop, also realizing how smart the French butchers had been about selling all of it. An American Meat Collective “This was in 2010, sort of just as the movement toward whole animal butchery gained interest in the U.S.,” notes Davis. “This small Oregon butcher shop wanted to be a part of that. We quickly realized two things: one, none of us working behind the counter were all that creative with how to use the whole animal and, two, even when we were, we didn’t have a consumer base to support it.” At the same time, Davis was working at a restaurant that bought directly from a lot of farmers who themselves weren’t good at knowing how to sell a whole, or even a half, animal. “They weren’t good at selling the pig head or heart. So they had to raise prices to recoup what they were losing on the parts they couldn’t sell. Americans want high quality, but they don’t want to pay more for it. I saw a dearth of knowledge, on a consumer level, as well as farmers and chefs. Personally, I hadn’t yet mastered butchery in any way, shape, or form. I wanted to buy whole animals from local farms and butcher them myself to make my own prosciutto, ham, and bacon. I wanted to keep learning.” She envisioned building upon her crash-course education in Portland. The idea of a sort of DIY butchery academy crystallized as she identified local chefs and butchers who did know what they were doing to teach others in a class setting, and farmers to supply the whole animal for class. A place where people could see the basic process by which animals end up on our tables, begin to understand the costs of raising non-factory farm animals, and see what that value is. “I saw it as a way to start contributing to a more educated consumer base that is a more active participant in the processes,” says Davis. “Consumers who confront that an animal died for you to be able to eat meat.” Thus, the Portland Meat Collective was born. It hosts classes on slaughter, whole animal butchery, and whole animal utilization, i.e. sausage making and pâté. Davis has partnered with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department to teach people how to handle firearms and hunt safely. Everyone takes home meat at the end of the class. 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