Farmer, butcher, restaurant owner, author, activist, mother. Meredith Leigh has spent twenty years trading one hat for another. Sometimes she wears multiple caps at a time, in every aspect of the supply chain, in her pursuit of food she can feel good about.
An adept educator, Leigh travels extensively in a typical year, teaching about ethical meat practices based on her two books, The Ethical Meat Handbook and Pure Charcuterie: The Craft & Poetry of Curing Meats at Home. Thanks to the global pandemic’s cancelation of group events and travel, however, Leigh, like many others, can now add “online course creator” to her ever-growing résumé. “I had all these events scheduled and then couldn’t go, so I had to say ‘Here’s an alternative,’” she says.
The former two-day, in-person workshops she led have now taken shape as online courses focused on the core skills from her books—whole-hog butchery, the art of charcuterie, and dry curing. The new format allows her to go even more in depth and will continue to provide her students around the globe with additional instruction. “Here’s how to break down a lamb and not just a hog,” she says, for example.
But the reimagining of her teaching mode hasn’t been without challenges. “I already want to throw my Go-Pro in a river,” she says jokingly, while taking a break from homeschooling—another result of the current health crisis. Still, the change of plans provided a relief she didn’t know she needed. “Me putting it online is this thing I’m doing for myself and setting it free instead of holding all of this knowledge in my body,” Leigh says.
“Why can’t we control our own food choices? How can we mobilize at the community level?”
A frequent guest on various social media accounts and virtual events, Leigh’s interest in ethical meat practices extends to local activism, working with grassroots efforts to address the challenges at the source and identifying the systemic issues present. Soon after states mandated the work-or-home orders in March, many of the shortfalls of the food supply chain—specifically in meat processing—were exposed.
“Why can’t we control our own food choices? How can we mobilize at the community level?” were the questions Leigh asked as she began looking for ways to help solve the problem. Giving people and communities the skills to responsibly and correctly source, butcher, and preserve their meat became even more pressing. “People weren’t getting what they needed,” Leigh says.
Almost a foreshadowing, the second edition of Leigh’s The Ethical Meat Handbook—the framework for many of her new online courses—was released in January, five years after it had originally been published and two months before the pandemic’s effects would start to be revealed. Along with photography of the prepared recipes, this edition includes information for the non-farming omnivore—in essence, the home cook who wouldn’t already be prepared to weather a food shortage. “I missed the mark on providing info for people who didn’t want to raise animals and/or weren’t already on the train of ‘I have a farmer and market,’” Leigh says of the first edition.
This time, she didn’t hold back—emphasizing the idea that individuals and communities need to work together to raise animals in a way that doesn’t destroy the land and contribute negatively to climate change. “In a lot of ways I wasn’t radical enough in the first edition,” she says. “I felt more comfortable to [speak] my mind after traveling.”
As for what’s next, Leigh looks ahead with determination as she continues in her role of activist, bringing increasing awareness and change to as many components of the food supply chain as she can.