Nova Scotia

Later, gator: Meat the Nova Scotia butcher who carved up an alligator on TV

A Dartmouth, N.S., butcher came in second place — and sliced up a giant reptile — on a competition show that recently premiered on the History channel.

'I couldn't have done anything better' on competition show, says Dartmouth butcher

Brianna Hagell recently came in second place on The Butcher, a new reality competition series on the History channel. (Vessel Meats/Instagram)

A Halifax-area butcher who scored second place on an episode of a new reality TV series says she's proud to have competed alongside some of the best in the industry — and to have worked on an animal well outside her comfort zone.

Brianna Hagell of Dartmouth was one of four butchers featured in the first episode of The Butcher, which premiered on the History channel toward the end of May.

"I was super proud of how I did. I couldn't have done anything better," said Hagell, who owns Vessel Meats.

The episode, which was filmed in January, was a three-part competition.

First, Hagell and the other butchers were tasked with butchering a pig with an old-fashioned cleaver. 

"Up until that point, I had no idea if I was going to be embarrassed off the show in the first three minutes," Hagell, 34, told CBC's Information Morning. 

"But when I saw that pig, I was like, 'I can do this, this is how I learned.'"

Then, there came a portioning challenge, where the contestants eyeballed the weight of cuts of meat without using a scale.

The final part of the competition was slicing up an exotic mystery animal, which turned out to be an alligator — a first for Hagell.

"This is the first time I'd seen a whole alligator," she said with a laugh. "To be honest, I had gone home and Googled how to butcher a whole bunch of exotic animals the night before the final competition."

Hagell said butchering an alligator is different than working on mammals: the texture of the giant reptile is similar to a "meaty fish," like halibut, rather than commonly butchered animals like pigs or cows.

Most mammals also don't have huge, muscular tails like alligators do.

Still, Hagell said she was glad it was a gator and not another kind of exotic animal.

"I got lucky, I think, because there's not as much information on like, kangaroos or ostriches or some of the other things," she said.

Hagell says pigs are her favourite animals to work on. (Beth Dunham)
 

While The Butcher only recently began airing, it is not completely without controversy.

An online petition calling on the History Channel to cancel the show has gained over 56,000 signatures, saying it "glorifies violence, animal, and environmental abuse."

A male-dominated field

Hagell was the only woman on the episode, competing against Joey Clampit of Arkansas, Brandon Sheard of Washington, and Daniel Scepurek of California — who ended up winning.

She said succeeding as a woman in the industry is likely no more challenging than it is for any other profession, but female butchers have to adapt a bit more to get the job done.

Since women are, on average, smaller than men, they have to think more about where they're cutting and use gravity to their advantage, said Hagell.

"So if you have something hanging on a rail or hanging on a hook, you can cut it in ways that the muscle itself is pulling down because of gravity, instead of my physical body pulling it down," she explained.

"You can just have it hanging and then gravity does the work for you."

Hagell says Vessel Meats works directly with farmers to ensure they have control over what they're selling. (Vessel Meats/Instagram)
 

Hagell got into butchering a few years ago after growing bored of an office job.

She said she works directly with local farmers so she can be in control of the product she's selling and produce the meat as ethically as possible.

As Canadians begin moving away from meat and more toward plant-based diets, Hagell said the answer isn't going off meat entirely — it's about putting more thought into the meat we eat.

"Especially in the Maritimes, we have this habit of … huge portions of meat," she said. "We just need to eat better meat less often."

Vessel Meats sells its goods at the Alderney Landing Farmers' Market and the Halifax Brewery Farmers' Market.

With files from Information Morning Nova Scotia

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