27/02/2021

How Seattle Butcher Kristina Glinoga Is Reimagining Butchery

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Watching Kristina Glinoga butcher meat is watching an artist at work. She takes her six-inch semi-flexible boning knife in a strong fist grip and, drawing firm lines using just the tip of the sharp blade, separates muscle from bone and muscle from muscle. She alternates these long, broad strokes with short, flicking slices that look like brushstrokes on a canvas.

One of Glinoga’s favorite things about the craft of butchery is finding the natural ways for meat and bone to come apart. It’s when she feels like she is working with the animal instead of coercing it into becoming meat. She doesn’t like using cleavers or saws that much in her work — she says it’s probably an upper-body-strength thing.

Glinoga stands out in her field on two fronts. She is a woman and she is also Filipinx, working in an industry where women make up only 28.3 percent of the workforce and whites make up 65.5 percent.

Glinoga owns and operates Butchery 101, a business that provides butchery education to the masses — from how to cut meat to how to source ingredients ethically. Through Butchery 101 classes, Glinoga not only demonstrates butchery and covers best practices on cutting and cooking meat, she also stresses the importance of ethical meat consumption and connects her students to excellent local farms, many of which are BIPOC and/or women-owned, like Alluvial Farms, the Sheepish Pig, Bright Ide Acres, Skagit River Ranch, Lost Peacock Creamery, and Scabland Farm.

Being a small-business owner, cook, and butcher was not what Glinoga’s parents had imagined for her. Like many immigrants of their generation, they wanted financial security and stability for their daughter, remembering some of the challenges they needed to overcome after decades of living under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, an administration that was marked by martial law and countless human rights abuses and deaths.

Her parents came to the United States in 1986, not long after she was born, and in Seattle, they found a small but growing Filipinx community. Her dad became a mail carrier. Her mom worked in health insurance as a claims processor. They hustled hard — always grabbing as much overtime as possible — to provide their daughter a college education that would hopefully lead to a stable job. From them, Glinoga learned the importance of a strong work ethic. Also from them, she learned the importance of making big leaps in life based on conviction.

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In 2011, Glinoga was a dissatisfied 25-year-old journalism student who found herself constantly angry over what she was learning about the industrial food complex — the big business of commoditizing and politicizing food through not only widespread factory farming, but also agriculture regulations, food lobbying, and farm subsidies that benefit huge operations at great expense to small businesses that have all but disappeared. It’s an industry still essentially thriving today.

In May, President Donald Trump announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), packaged into the CARES Act, which allocated $16 billion to farmers, small and large. However, this did not actually benefit small farms: CFAP was designed to offset lost sales based on wholesale prices, prices that are a lot lower than the price set by farmers and purveyors at farmers markets, grocery stores, and local restaurants.

“I just couldn’t believe that, my entire life, I was participating in a system that did this,” says Glinoga. “I felt like I was being duped. I felt like I was being hoodwinked every time I went to the grocery store.”

So she dropped out of college. “My parents were not stoked,” she says.

After leaving the University of Washington, she enrolled in the Seattle Culinary Academy and became a line cook at Volunteer Park Cafe — a place that she sought out because it had such reverence for and responsibility to ethically sourced food. She also wanted to work with its then-chef and owner Ericka Burke.

The view of a farm in Eastern Washington with three people, including butcher Kristina Glinoga, shown inside the shadows of a barn

Kristina Glinoga at Scabland Farm in Davenport, Washington
Emma Elise Photography

After Volunteer Park Cafe, she bounced from kitchen to kitchen, amassing experience in the kitchens of Crush, Ba Bar, Canlis, and Cascina Spinasse, as well as landing at Matt’s in the Market and its sister restaurant, Radiator Whiskey. Because both restaurants were committed to locally sourcing and butchering a whole pig each week, she started coming in early before her shifts to gain experience in butchery.

Glinoga was hooked right away.

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But since full-time jobs at farm-to-table restaurants and independent butcher shops are hard to come by, she sustained her passion with part-time gigs. Most butchers in this country are employed by supermarkets and grocery stores, and she’s dabbled herself — for instance, she had a stint at Whole Foods in 2017. But for the most part, Glinoga’s heart lies with places that allow for more craftsmanship and artistry in butchery, places like Dot’s Butcher and Delicatessen, Bateau, and the Shambles.

“To me, it’s really fascinating to have this knowledge that is old,” she says. “I didn’t grow up learning too much about meat and the way that an animal turns into this thing that ends up on your plate. So to me, it’s really cool to have this connection with tradition. I feel like I can find a connection to past generations.”

The seed that eventually became Butchery 101 was planted by something chef Tyler Palagi said to her one day at Radiator Whiskey: “You should probably think about doing a one-pot meal or a pop-up sometime.”

Pop-ups at Radiator Whiskey were hot in 2016. But Glinoga didn’t want to run her own dinner service, because she knew in her gut what she ultimately wanted to do. She wanted to buy a really nice pig from a farmer that she trusted and butcher it — in front of an audience. Thus, Butchery 101 was born.

“I feel like education was really central to what was going on [at the time] and what I wanted to do,” she says. “Specifically because I was seeing the same complaints from butchery people all the time, especially in the retail sector. The education that happens at a meat counter or a stand at the farmers market — you have to justify the price to your guest. People will be like, ‘Oh! $9.99 for a pork shoulder — why? It’s 2.99 at QFC.’ And you have to be like, ‘Well, this is providing our farmers with a living wage. Industrial farms are getting subsidies. There’s economy of scale,’ blah blah blah. And after 25 minutes of conversation, they are like, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting! Maybe next time. Bye!’ So I knew that there were butchers out there who were burning tons of time and mental energy on educating a single person at a time.”

Leading up to March of this year, things were going well for Butchery 101 and Glinoga. After years of hustling and paying her dues — working long hours at many different places and putting up with the sexism that is rampant in the restaurant industry — she finally felt like she could breathe at the beginning of 2020. Her work was becoming more well-known with consumers, and she had finally landed her dream job with the Butcher’s Table. There, she worked under the supervision of chef Morgan Mueller, a boss who respected her talents and contributions. She also got paid a livable wage, with benefits.

“And then it totally got ruined!” Glinoga says. “Oh my God, isn’t that just the story of COVID? We were right there — and then it got wiped out.”

Glinoga was laid off from Butcher’s Table. A whole-pig butchery class that she had planned to teach at the end of the March through Butchery 101 got canceled. She hasn’t held an in-person butchery class since.

After the cancellation of her last in-person class and getting laid off from Butcher’s Table, Glinoga considered going back to work in retail at a grocery store’s butchery counter — just to be able to pay the bills.

But she found that the grocery store job she applied for actually would not pay her a livable wage. It was discouraging — but also not at all surprising to her — because it was so typical of the industry. In the U.S., the average salary for male butchers and other meat, poultry, and fish processing workers is $32,158. The average salary for female workers is $26,813. These wages are significantly lower than the national average salary of $53,888.

Of course, her situation was not unique at all. As reported in April by the James Beard Foundation, at the time, 91 percent of the hourly restaurant workforce and nearly 70 percent of the salaried employees were laid off. To date, as the restaurant industry still fights to stay afloat, cracks that had long existed continue to deepen. “The [food] industry was set up in a certain way that was always exploitative and disrespectful. COVID just showed everyone else all of that,” says Glinoga.

In 2019, Mother Jones reported that the majority of California restaurants, which employ 1.6 million workers (or over 9 percent of the state’s entire workforce), do not pay their employees a livable wage. Moreover, even though BIPOCs make up 70 percent of this particular workforce, workers of color in the Bay Area were paid $6 per hour less than their white counterparts. And while Seattle passed its minimum wage ordinance in 2014, data has revealed that in a city with median rents at $2,700 a month, affording housing on a minimum wage salary is still all but impossible.

So Glinoga reassessed. She thought about what she really wanted from her career, and what her values are. She decided that she was sick of certain industry norms — the low wages combined with the poor work-life balance that comes with working in restaurants — and the rampant misogyny.

“It dawned on me a while back that my love of food is not enough for me to excel in [a white male-dominated] culture,” Glinoga says. “Like, my love of food is what brought me to this. My desire to do something good with my career is what brought me to this field. But once you are there, it’s like — you have to drink a lot to get along, you have to objectify women to get along, you have to bully each other to get along. … And it’s like, I don’t love any of these things! I don’t want to exist in that.”

Glinoga can name many repeating moments at work when she was made to feel lesser or unimportant because she was the lone woman in spaces made for and ruled by men. There were times when her ideas and suggestions were ignored by a male chef in favor of those of her male counterparts. There were also times in restaurant kitchens when her leadership and authority weren’t taken seriously by colleagues. But it wasn’t just the back of the house. She often experienced subtle sexism from customers, especially in retail settings. Customers frequently assumed she wasn’t one of the butchers — or they knew she was one of the butchers, but they doubted her competence because she was the only woman working among a bunch of men.

Her experiences are all too common for women who work in food. Recently, another Seattle butcher, Etana Diaz, sounded off on the pervasive sexism in the industry in A Woman’s Place, a Hulu documentary.

“There was always this level of harassment that would happen,” Diaz told Seattle Magazine. “There was a lot of sexual harassment too — I would get grabbed a lot inappropriately. Just the comments that people would make, because they didn’t trust that I could be a good cook as a woman.”

Sexism is often hard to pin down. Sometimes, Glinoga doubts herself, going back and forth about whether or not to qualify an incident as sexist. “It’s weird and subtle, and when it happens — in the moment — you are like, ‘This is so frustrating!’” she says, explaining that there is often a delay in mental processing that happens after experiencing a moment that feels off and problematic. “But when it happens often, you’re like: Fuck this.”

And it’s the desire to leave this toxicity behind — and the effects that COVID-19 has had on the food industry — that is driving Glinoga to reimagine Butchery 101 as something different. During the summer, Glinoga organized a GoFundMe campaign, which exceeded her $5,000 goal, to shift her Butchery 101 business from in-person classes to online education, with both free and paid options.

Free education can currently be found on her YouTube channel, where she features butchery tutorial videos and cool takeout from local, mostly BIPOC-owned small restaurants and businesses like Brothers & Co., Jade Garden, and Green Tree Asian Restaurant. Those who want a more hands-on touch can book her for virtual holiday consultations or sign up for one of her upcoming online turkey and poultry breakdown classes.

“We live in an age of misinformation, and I’m just trying to combat it in the meat department,” says Glinoga. “Meat is so integral to American cuisine. Even if you don’t eat it every day or even if you oppose [its consumption], it’s still really important to stay engaged and learn about our food systems. To me, going online with Butchery 101 means that all of us can still connect, learn, and improve together, all the while showing that we care for each other by staying home.”

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