It used to be much easier to come up with the name of a famous butcher character in movies or on television. There’s the movie from which Sylvester Stallone cobbed the love story part of Rocky. Marty is the Oscar-winning movie about an ugly butcher and his plain Jane girlfriend. Many Baby Boomers would immediately come up with Sam the Butcher from the Brady Bunch if asked to name a famous media cutter of meat. As for me, my favorite fictional butcher will almost certainly always be that slightly sinister purveyor of the highly addictive “Special Stuff” that nearly destroys the entire populace of Royston Vasey, Mr. Hilary Briss. Even more so than with many other characters in the British TV show The League of Gentlemen, there is something truly unforgettable about the highly popular butcher and his very unique brand of by-request-only beef.
You can’t head down to the local market and get to know your local Hilary Briss or Sam or Marty today. The death of local meat markets with the rise of the A&P and Piggly Wiggly and eventual Walmart-ization of the grocery industry has not really meant the wholesale death of the old-fashioned butcher, however. If you have an aching desire to get in on the business of holding one of those kickass cleavers and bringing it down sharply upon a cut of meat while one of those cool posters of a cow with the cuts of meat clearly outlined hang on the wall behind you….well…you are in luck. Employment for butchers is alive and kicking and the prospects-while hardly mouth-watering-are not too bad.
The bad news for those who do dream of living the life of Hilary Briss or winding up as Alice’s bowling-loving boyfriend who works regular hours behind the counter at a grocery store is that the greatest job growth potential for butchers is in the processing plants rather than retail outlets. This situation also sets up one of those unavoidable failures of the capitalist system. The movement of the need for butchers away from grocery outlets and toward food processing plants means an increase in demand for butchers of lesser skills. This, in turn, means lower pay.
The fact that butchers don’t require a college degree and depend mostly upon on-the-job training or apprentice programs could come as either good or bad news. There is no reason to suspect that a butcher cannot be well versed in the philosophy of Roland Barthes and speak eloquently on the subject of theoretical alternatives to the Big Bang Theory. If you would prefer to avoid apprenticeship and gain a wider education on your path to becoming a butcher, you may face some difficulties. Those who look forward to getting their hands into ribs and briskets will appreciate that the average training period for a skilled butcher is only about two years tops.
How much can a butcher expect to earn if he doesn’t provide the Special Stuff that drove Hilary Briss from Royston Vasey to a beach in Fiji? The median annual wages for butchers in 2008 was $28,290. If you can find a butcher job in the retail sector rather than the manufacturing industry, you can expect to make more. The top 10% of butchers in 2008 made in excess of $45,000.