El Matadero | Mexico | Living in Mexico

El Matadero

[Warning: This post is not for the squeamish.]


You can't go to Safeway and get animal heads wrapped in plastic film. Tough, if you've got a hankering for tacos de cabeza.

Most supermarket meat departments never see whole carcasses, and they never get heads to sell. In fact, the spoilsports over at the USDA have banned them as too risky to eat.

Norteamericano meat is processed in some huge plant in e. g. Wisconsin and is shipped broken down into neat packages that local workers, with minimal effort, convert into steaks, roasts and hamburger. Less desirable parts become pet food or something. I hope.

In San Miguel, we get the whole animal. In the carnicerias (butcher shops) you see more of your meat than you really want to. For that matter, you see parts of animals you'd just as soon not have seen.

The carnicerias, in turn, receive their meat from the local matadero (slaughterhouse), which is conveniently located not far from the central bus station. Mexicanos don't hide their meat processing away in some remote locale.


This building is ugly, which somehow seems fitting. What happens inside is ugly.

All the workers wear white plastic boots. I guess they need them. Eewww.

This guy is doing the meat-packing Hokey Pokey.


An ungrammatical sign has been painted on the front of the building. It is directed at farmers who bring animals to the slaughterhouse.

What initially struck me about it was the happy cow on the left, smiling from the truck that is bringing him to his doom.

Ah, yes. Happy chickens, smiling pigs, dancing shrimp—Mexicans don't seem to be put off by images of living animals intended for food. A photo of a feathered chicken apparently sets mouths to watering. I guess it's whatever you're used to.

The steer depicted on the right, the one being pushed down the ramp, looks unhappy. Hmmm. Something is wrong here. Animals are supposed to be happy about being eaten. This one doesn't fit the pattern.

Better read the sign.


It says, "The municipal authorities recommend that you cure and transport healthy livestock." (Italics mine.)

Well, I hope so.

I don't know about you, but do you want to chow down on beef from animals that have been cured?

Cured of what?

And how come the municipal authorities only recommend you don't bring sick animals to the slaughterhouse? Isn't there a law? Isn't there some kind of inspector that arrests and jails violators?

It gets worse. In smaller lettering, it says, "Transport (only) livestock that doesn't have lesions or maggots."

(Didn't need any italics there, did I?)

And just in case you're still missing the point, the painting of the steer (that we now know is being rejected) shows eight devilish little worms frolicking on its back. In a lesion.


Oh, ick! I'll never look at meat the same way again.

One other image is worth mentioning.


This appears to represent either a Mexican Air Force nuclear bomber or a radioactive fly.

imagesI think the artist intended something like this, but he got carried away with circles.

Around 80,000 people eat the meat that comes through this place. There have been no reports of problems. The meat we get is fresher than any we got in the U. S. Today's lunch may have been on the hoof yesterday.

The sign gives the wrong impression. Agricultural inspection stations are located on the highways, and livestock cannot be sold to the slaughterhouse without certificates. But besides writing innumerable laws and hiring hordes of officials to oversee everything, Mexicans like to put up friendly advisory signs.

Somebody's nephew probably needed a job. The slaughterhouse owner probably asked him to paint a nice sign sign. Mexicans realize that it's just friendly advice. They know there's more teeth in the food safety system than just the sign.

But there's no getting around it. Slaughterhouses are nasty. Killing animals and cutting them up is vile and probably dirty. Anywhere in the world.

You think it's different up north? When did you last check? Your slaughterhouse is at least two states away and surrounded by a razor-wire-topped chain-link fence. We can't go in them. We really have no idea of what it's like inside those places.

Wait a minute. Actually we do. If you haven't read it yet, check out Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Then go to McDonalds and order a Big Mac. I guarantee it won't taste the same.