Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Last Friday and Saturday I participated in Sheep and Goat Day up on Bistra Mountain, not too far from where I live. Friday was a seminar for farmers and slaughterhouse owners called "Rating sheep carcasses in slaughterhouses". It was put on by an EU NGO (notice now how all these acronyms are part of my life?), and it was primarily in English with Albanian and Macedonian translation. It may sound uninteresting to most of you, but to me it was fascinating and important. We had a speaker from Spain who talked about the system (poor translators - his English was very heavily accented and often hard to understand) and how it's being implemented in Spain, one from Macedonia about his study of sheep carcasses in slaughterhouses in Macedonia, and one from the ministry of agriculture in Croatia, which has recently implemented the system. The system is a rating of 5 levels of conformation and then levels of fat, much like the American system. Sounds innocuous, but think of the implications. The best sheep carcass in Macedonia only made the middle rating - good - because here they are grown naturally. Where rating systems are applied, horrible things happen - all of a sudden farmers have to do whatever they can to make the animals meet the higher standards, like feed growth supplements to make them grow fatter and bigger faster. It's what has ruined American meat, all in the name of consumer protection and consistency. And the slaughterhouse people were outraged - it will put them out of business to add the extra costs, and indeed, in the United States, small independent slaughterhouses have gone out of business because they can't compete with mega-regional slaughterhouses who can cut costs by having everything super mechanized and efficient. The cost of that to us is high - they're also harder to regulate and all sorts of really terrible things happen. It's why we have so much more e-coli worries now. And most of the lambs here are sold directly from the farms to the consumer, who often butcher and cut the meat up themselves. Anyway, it's another example of the conflict between traditional family based farming and agribusiness that is being played out here in the name of EU accession.
Saturday was the sheep festival - much more fun! It was held in one of the high pastures above the treeline on Bistra Mountain. Spectacular setting, and I got to see sheep, horses, and the gorgeous Sharplanina dogs. They had all kinds of entertainment, including traditional wrestling - that's me with the winner above. I've also included a video showing the preliminaries before the bouts begin. It's an interesting ceremony. The wrestlers themselves are absolutely soaked in sunflower oil - so much so that they often can't see what they're doing because they have oil in their eyes. At one point one of the wrestlers had accidentally switched opponents and couldn't see he was wrestling the wrong guy! They also had milking and shearing contests, served a free breakfast to everyone who came, and because we were part of the planning group, we got to eat all the lamb we wanted, as well as roasted peppers, spanikopija, and other local dishes. It was a wonderful day to be outside surrounded by beauty, and it was great to finally get to see some of the high pastures.
Posted by Candice Wiggum at 10:34 PM