The Beef Draft

What better way to choose beef than from a cow you sort-of, kind-of, "know"? That's what happens in a beef draft. The Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier found his foray into communal livestock consumption eminently more satisfying than the supermarket.

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You know that scene in Apocalypse Now? The one where they butcher a cow? It's actually a water buffalo, and yes, the animal was real. If you haven't seen the movie, picture a muddy Cambodian village during the dark days of the Vietnam war. Over a bed of tripadelic music, you see a machete blade come down on an animal's neck. The animal falls. The villagers seen in the foreground will eat the animal.
I've never been to a ritual sacrifice like the one I've just described. Most of the meat I've eaten has come after trips to antiseptic supermarkets, buying anonymous cuts of meat wrapped in plastic. But a year ago, I had an experience that got me just a little bit closer to the ritual slaughter depicted in that water buffalo scene. That's when I attended my first beef draft.
Now, a beef draft isn't as bloody or gruesome as the scene in Francis Ford Coppola's movie. It's actually a very orderly, non-threatening way to group-consume an animal. And vegetarians, you might want to cover your ears for this. In a beef draft, a cow is slaughtered and butchered. All the cuts of meat are laid out before a group of people. Each person takes a turn choosing pieces of meat until all of it is spoken for.
Picture fantasy football, but with brisket.
This draft was held in the house of a couple that knew a beef farmer in Ohio where they got their cow. I'd somehow gotten on an email chain about the draft a few weeks beforehand. I expressed some interest, and was given a spot.
The actual event was held on a rainy fall afternoon. People stood or sat in every corner of the house. Children scuttered between the adults, grabbing candy out of bowls set on the dining room table. All the meat had been shrink wrapped and frozenóno entrails, blood or machetes to be found.
Each of us was given a numberóI was around number 30. When my name was called, I got to inspect the packets of meat laid out on the living room floor. I picked my cuts, one at a time. A tiny New York strip was my first round pick. Then a series of cuts of declining stature on the meat hierarchyóskirt steak, short ribs, and for the last four rounds of the draft, hamburger meat. Each cut was weighed and recorded by our hostess into her laptop.
There was something gratifying about seeing the whole animal disappear, piece by piece, into coolers and canvas bags. We were seeing to it that no part of this animal would go to waste. And I felt that I was eating an animal that I sort of kind of "knew."
So when I picture the cow our family ate for months after the beef draft, I think of the water buffalo from Apocalypse Now. It fell, just like our Ohio-raised cow did. But all of us in the room were there to thank it in our own harsh, human way. We would eat it, we would enjoy it, we would not soon forget it.