Seattle-based butcher Etana Diaz is featured in “A Woman’s Place,” a powerful 30-minute documentary exploring sexism in the culinary industry.
“A Woman’s Place” tells the stories of three women who have fought their way through a male-dominated industry. After six years of cooking in Seattle restaurants, Diaz left the industry to learn how to become a butcher. When looking for an apprenticeship in Seattle, she encountered sexism and discrimination due to her size. She sold all of her furniture and moved to London to study butchery.
“I’d been so fed up with how much I’d had to deal with in restaurants that I was just done. I had enough,” Diaz says in the documentary.
Diaz discussed her experience taking part in “A Woman’s Place” and her journey to becoming a butcher at her current shop, Beast and Cleaver.
Q: What was your favorite part about working on “A Woman's Place?”
“I never think about how many people are actually involved in these projects. When they showed up, I thought it was going to be, maybe a camera person, the director and one other, and it was in the entire crew of 10 people following me around for three days and doing the interview and going to work with me. It's just kind of an awe-inspiring moment to see how passionate everybody on the team is about making sure that all of our voices were being heard and that we had a safe place to talk about these things. It just made me realize how important these stories are. Because, especially as a woman in the culinary world, a lot of times you don't have that safe space to be able to talk about these difficult topics.”
Q: Since it's been released, how has the documentary been received?
“To be honest, I was really nervous when it came out. I have gotten trolled quite a bit previously for different videos that I've posted of me butchering. I had this fear that that would happen again, like this would come out and then all the trolls would come out of the woodworks. But it was the complete opposite reaction. Everybody was so supportive. A lot of people, especially women in the industry, would talk about being able to relate to my story.”
Q: Tell me about your experience becoming a butcher.
“Originally, I went to culinary school to be a pastry chef. It felt like a really roundabout way in how I got here, but my first restaurant after culinary school, I realized that pastry didn't really spark my fire professionally. It was more fun to do at home. So eventually, I left that job.
“I went to learn how to cook in a fine dining restaurant. When I was on the line, there's this level of adrenaline that you get … like we’re constantly on our toes of what's going to happen. I just found it so exciting and realize that I liked that pacing so much better than the slower pacing of pastry ... It's just a very hard lifestyle. When you work in a kitchen, you give up a lot of yourself and you give up a lot of your personal life. It could be a very hostile work environment as well. It was a lot of stress, and after a while, I just didn't feel worth it anymore.
“In my last kitchen, I had a chef that was bringing in whole primals to cut in steaks. I had never actually seen that before, because most kitchens I worked in we just bought them pre-cut. I just thought that that was so cool. I think when I realized that restaurants were toxic, and it just wasn't a good place for me to be in anymore, I just got it in my mind that, I'm going to go and learn to butcher. I had never actually cut meat before. It was kind of just like this wild hair that I got. I was out of work for a month, because no one in the city would hire me. I had a lot of people turn me down, because I’m a woman but also because I had zero experience. It was tough to get my foot in the door.”
Q: Why butchery?
“It's just such an interesting craft, and I also feel like it's slowly a dying craft. Just being able to be that person that understands the entire anatomy of the animal, I think you acquire a different respect for your food. Being able to pass on that knowledge, especially now I feel like it's very important in the time that we're living where commodity beef is such a problem. Being able to educate customers on why it's important to support smaller farms and animal welfare, it makes the job. It’s so much more than just cutting meat, you know?”
Q: Tell me a bit about your encounters with bias in the, in the culinary industry and how you have gotten past that.
“In almost all of the kitchens that I worked in, most times, I was the only woman, or one of two, and the other was the pastry chef. So, for me, automatically, no one respected me in the kitchen until they felt like I had proved myself. There was always this level of harassment that would happen. There was a lot of sexual harassment too — I would get grabbed a lot inappropriately. Just the comments that people would make, because they didn't trust that I could be a good cook as a woman. I'm very short, so if I asked for help to reach something on the top shelf, it would just turn into a huge issue.
“There was a lot of not getting the same opportunity as my male counterparts as well, and having to really fight to have my ideas heard or my dishes put on the menu. I think that always gave me drive and always pushed me a little bit harder too, feeling like I did have to fight for every opportunity that I've gotten.”
Q: Do you have any advice for women in butchery or in the culinary industry in general?
“My biggest takeaway for myself has been, if this is something that you really want, do not give up. I heard no so many times before I got one yes to get him to butchery. If I would have let that discourage me, I probably wouldn't be a butcher today.”
“A Woman’s Place” is available to watch on Hulu.