Pretty much my favorite thing about my job (even more than working from home, being paid to eat delicious things, and not having a boss) is getting to talk to passionate people about things that they love.
I’ve talked to cheesemakers about a particular type of Brie that almost disappeared, to restaurateurs about the history and the revival of the croque monsieur, to young farmers about what organic means to them… and each and every time, I’ve learned far more than I set out to.
The most recent case of this was a story I was working on about horse butchery. It was a story I had wanted to tell for a while, a part of French culinary culture that I was vaguely aware of but knew little about.
At first I thought that I would just speak to a restaurateur and a butcher. I assumed that the story was clean-cut and simple, that my job would merely be to normalize something that might seem shocking to American consumers but was actually relatively pedestrian in France.
Oh, how I love when I’m proven wrong.
Image care of Otis Lebert
The chef that I spoke to had a literal library full of information he had collected over the years about the history of horsemeat, both in France and abroad. He introduced me to a butcher who is also the head of the horse butchers’ federation in France. It turns out that the both of them were so keen on me knowing all of the ins and outs of their trade that I ended up spending the day with them at the Salon de l’Agriculture, Paris’ largest agricultural trade show, learning, asking questions, and even tasting horse for the very first time.
At the end of my interviews and time spent with them, I had 13,000 words of notes from which to write a short, 1,000-word piece. Of course, that’s the toughest part of the job – distilling all of that information, all of that experience, and all of that passion into something that will speak to someone who hasn’t had those experiences, who hasn’t had those conversations and seen the smiles on people’s faces as they share their favorite moments from their multi-decade-long experience.
There are little tidbits that had to get cut, pieces that a writing friend of mine always called “baby toes,” the pieces that you love but that are unnecessary. I like to pretend I’ll be able to use them, somewhere, but the truth is that usually, once discarded, baby toes live out the rest of their lives in a document on my desktop called “other notes and stuff.”
But since I do have this platform, I will share just one of these little pieces, something that one of the butchers said to me as we were wrapping up our final interview that I couldn’t help but save.
“If you wake up in the morning, and you say to yourself, ‘Ugh, I have to go to work,’ that’s catastrophic,” he said. “It’s like if you were with a person you don’t love – it’s the same thing. It’s exactly the same.”
I must have said it a thousand times since I finally became a full-time freelancer, but I think it bears repeating: I really, really love my job.