It’s a Wrap! [UPDATED]

Published 9:45am Thursday, August 9, 2012 Updated 9:45am Thursday, August 9, 2012

Three, if you are wondering. Becky has three spotted cow caps, and she sports one every day. “It’s my trademark,” she quips.

Becky Petersen has been a unique part (as in the only female!) of the Fergus Falls Service Food’s meat department since 1986. The decision to become a meat packer was not due to an urge to package raw meat or be in chilly temps day in and day out. She was not intrigued with what mysterious things went on behind the glassed-in meat area. Becky had been a part-time checker and there was a full-time opening in the meat department. An increase in hours and pay was certainy tempting. To seal the deal, Becky was told if she took the job she would not have to work weekends. Done.

Since then Becky has enjoyed her job, especially the many customers she has come to know, many of whom just stop to say hello. Becky’s smile and gentle manner are something they have grown accustomed to.

Becky does not mind being the only female working in the meat department. On the contrary, she says, “I like being the only one. I have my bakery girls I can talk to if I need to.” She feels close to her co-workers, even with turnover throughout the years. “I am the original,” Becky smiles. “I bake birthday cakes for ‘my boys’,” as she calls her male colleagues. Though Becky admits they all (herself included) can “get crabby” (especially when very busy – around the holidays), they typically get along like family. On June 4, Becky celebrated 5 years of being cancer-free. While she fought her battle, she says, “The guys were so good to me. I think they look out for me…they better!”

Meat packing mastery is something learned on the job. “At first I felt like I was slowing them down,” says Becky. “There was so much to know—I had to learn all the cuts of meat. After a few months it just clicked.” It’s been clicking ever since. If you want meat cut a certain way, Becky will see that it gets done. If you want something unusual, talk to Becky. Traditional meats are plentiful, but also available are beef livers, turkey gizzards and drumsticks, pork hocks, and stuffed meats, with a stuffing Becky makes herself, which Becky says, “tastes good, if I do say so myself.” Additionally, special orders can be taken for unusual cuts and kinds of meat. Beef tongue has had takers (Becky winces!), as well as two of the most recent requests—pig’s ears and frog legs.

Much like agriculture and fashion, meat has seasons. When it’s holiday time, turkeys, hams, and roasts are popular. After the holidays there is a drop in meat sales for a time, but then comes spring and the season your grill has been waiting for…summer! Becky suggests staying away from meats which are too lean for the grill. Grilling tends to dry them out, thus fattier (pardon, more “marbled”) meat is desirable for grilling. “Low and slow,” is a helpful mantra, and grilling things too hot too quickly can cause the exterior to burn while leaving the interior undone. Go ahead and cook with charcoal, but you won’t want to eat anything with that texture. Try marinating, as Becky recommends moisture as another strategy in avoiding drying meat out.

When she began, being a meat packer entailed all by-hand wrapping of the fresh meats. Becky would remind the butchers, “There’s only one of me!” while she kept up with all the various pieces of meat. Now many are pre-wrapped. In addition, an automatic wrapping machine has somewhat modified her job, and Becky admits at first she wasn’t sure. “I didn’t want to be replaced,” she notes. Her co-workers and customers would agree, “replaced” is simply something Becky (and her cow caps!) cannot be.

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