Where Did Mutton Go

Where did all the mutton go? No one eats mutton anymore. Confession: I have never eaten mutton or lamb (nor rabbit, squirrel, groundhog, raccoon or any number of wildlife), so I do not share consumer fascination with this particular food choice. Yet, I do love unborn chicken fetuses, especially with nicely crisp strips of porcine splendor, and thick, buttery grits with salt and pepper. I blame my mother, of course, whose cooking was superb but whose repertoire was limited.

Mom never cooked lamb; in fact, she never even tasted it until a midlife hospital stay. We have my grandmother to thank/blame for that. Or, perhaps, more accurately, HER father, who raised sheep and forced his large family (12 children who lived!) to subsist on mutton. My mother explained that it was mutton my grandmother despised—tough, chewy, blecch! Imagine a poor coal-miner’s wife, struggling to feed a growing family but refusing to so much as consider what was then the cheapest food around. Yet, my grandmother’s disgust overcame necessity, so my mother and her siblings never tasted mutton. As a child, I had little reason or desire to question this. Mom’s meat-and-potatoes Southern cooking was fine by me. No complaints (well, except for liver, but that’s another story…).

The adult me never tasted the newly christened lamb because:

  • Cooking shows always show it too pink and raw-looking

  • I didn’t/don’t want to eat a baby animal (so cute)

  • It raises too many Christian references (lamb to slaughter)

  • If it wasn’t good enough for Mom, I probably won’t like it.

Hypocrite, you say! For a goodly number of years, I heartily enjoyed veal until I learned of the horrific living conditions of baby cows awaiting slaughter with no daylight, no romps in the grass, no room to even lie down. So, I stopped, even though I sometimes think I can still taste the Veal Piccata …

Hypocrite! I still eat beef, pork, and chicken when I can afford it, despite a vague sense that they, too, are subjected to abominable treatment. Thoughts of their brief lives and slaughter on occasion do haunt me. I cannot subsist on vegetables despite my best efforts. I am an omnivore and the smell of Hardees grill lures me inevitably. Besides, I rationalize to no one, scientists have proven that plants emit silent screams when we cut them or pull them from their beds. Oh, my. Was it Pythagoras who tried to subsist on air alone?

That said, my question returns: Where did all the mutton go? And why has a meat source relied upon for centuries, particularly among poor people, disappeared from off the earth? Is it a conspiracy? At some point, I suspect during or after WWII, consumers and their Baby Boomer children no longer shopped for mutton. You cannot find mutton on pricey restaurant menus or in meat cases at your grocery. Where did it all go?

Sheep farmers hoping to see profit from all those sheep mowing vast expanses of grass and tundra and otherwise dilly-dallying their woolly lives away, faced a desperate truth—people hated mutton. It was cheap but it was tough, chewy, blecch! What to do? Eureka, let’s not call it mutton. Let’s kill baby sheep, when their meat is still tender and sweet (?), and call it lamb. Who’ll know? Consumers lapped up lamb with alacrity. Problem solved.

But, tell me, someone, where did the mutton go? Where do all the old sheep that would have become mutton go? No one eats mutton, do they, anymore? Then who or what does eat it? Do they have a top-secret factory where they process old sheep/mutton for other purposes? Purposes such as (I’m guessing):

  • furry hand grenades

  • door stops with feet

  • sheep-scented candles

  • mutton slushies?

I swear I just wonder.



© Copyright 2012 Linda L Labin, PhD


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