It was a fluke thing, Cindy Garcia says, when she made the cover of Comstock’s magazine in 2014.
The night before the photo shoot, Garcia received a call that someone else had backed out. The caller asked if she could step in to highlight a story about the rising number of female butchers in the Sacramento region (“Killer Instincts,” June 2014.) At the time, Garcia was a student employee at the UC Davis Meat Science Lab, where she had worked since her freshman year of college. She took the invitation without hesitation.
“It kind of set off this chain reaction, actually,” Garcia says. Her moment in the spotlight came as she was set to graduate from UC Davis, where she had been a pre-veterinary student. Corti Brothers in East Sacramento saw Garcia in the magazine and gave her a call, she says. She soon received additional job offers, and now works as both a butcher at the Davis Food Co-op and as an assistant at the meat lab at UC Davis.
At the Co-op, Garcia learned of international butchering competitions. “Someone told me, ‘The world team is looking,’ ” she says, so she sent in a video of herself doing her cuts and was selected for the Butchers of America Team.
Now 28 years old, she will compete as a member of the under-31 division for the biannual World Butchers’ Challenge at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento in September 2020. The event was founded in 2011 and features teams for 18 countries. Garcia says she is the first female and the youngest person to be a member of the U.S. national team. Comstock’s previously reported on the competition (“Inside the World Butchers’ Challenge,” August 2018) as part of our coverage on the revival of the local butcher shop (“Guts and Glory”).
“Historically, ladies [didn’t] do this,” Garcia says of the typically-male dominated butcher profession. “Because back in the day, they didn’t have any electricity. If you’re carving through something, you [needed] to use giant cleavers and all that. Now, it’s like there’s electricity, there’s smart ways of killing. There’s no reason ladies can’t do it. So now ladies are doing it.”
Despite the strides in the industry, Garcia remains part of a small demographic. While her boss at the meat lab, Caleb Sehnert, claims 60-70 percent of the students at the lab are female, thanks in large part to the high proportion of female animal science students at Davis, the industry is still predominantly male.
Sehnert, who is also vice president of the California Association of Meat Processors, illustrates what a typical butcher convention looks like: “… there’s a lot of wives and daughters and stuff, but on the industry side there’s a lot more men in the [business] for sure.”
Garcia hasn’t been afraid to be part of the change and forge new paths. She will appear on an upcoming episode of a new series called “The Butcher,” which debuted May 22 on the History Channel, although due to a non-disclosure agreement she signed, Garcia was unable to discuss the specifics of her appearance. She also recently returned from a trip to Australia, where she competed against butchers from Ireland, Australia and New Zealand in a three-hour cutting and 30-minute cooking competition known as Lifeline International. The proceeds of the competition went to suicide prevention. She won a gold medal.
Garcia admits her long-term plans aren’t completely figured out, but says she plans to continue with her butcher career at least for awhile.
“I never expected to be in this business for 10 years now,” Garcia says. “The whole time, it kind of [has felt] like I was procrastinating from real life. … A lot of folks, my parents, everybody, asks me, ‘OK, so it’s great that you’re doing this. But what are you really going to do?’ I’m like, ‘You know, I have no idea.’ ”
Traditional butcher shops are making a comeback in the Capital Region.
Originally conceived as a Pan Pacific pissing match, the World Butchers’ Challenge has since exploded into a truly global competition. It began in 2011 when Beef + Lamb New Zealand CEO Rod Slater bet an Australian colleague a bottle of whiskey that his country boasted the better butchers.
On a warm afternoon, soft spring winds are blowing across the campus at UC Davis. In a building on the university’s west corner, Cindy Garcia is hosing pools of blood down a drain. She places a pig skull on an inspection table, washes her hands and steps into the sunlight just as the parking lot is beginning to fill with shoppers toting grocery bags.