Within 10 minutes of arriving at The National Provisioner office (on Huron Street in Chicago) for my first day of work as an assistant editor with the publication in August 1985, I had my first assignment: Page through the weekly USPTO patents book, find those that were related to the meat industry, type them up word-for-word on my manual typewriter and submit them to my chief editor Betty Stevens for review.
I did this while sitting at my desk, which was a large damaged wooden desk that sat in the back room of the building’s second floor. My room was also filled with office supplies, and many steel filing cabinets loaded with hard copies of old NP magazines, tear sheets and tons of B&W photos.
Throughout this first day, I met each of the other staff members of NP as they came to this back room. Some came to look for old files or photos, others came to stop and get a drink of water from the faucet located just in front of the room so the drinker could peek in. A few people even came to walk through the room and onto the firescape to smoke a cigarette.
Not surprisingly, I quickly met everyone that first day. Shortly after that, I’d be going into each of their offices to either get assignments or advice, or find out how I was to assist them in one or more of their editorial projects. These veteran editors also included managing editor Carl Swinehart, senior technical editor Greg Pietraszek and associate editor Angie Zayas.
Betty did a lot of traveling, as I remember it. Carl did none, and came to the office every day by train from his home in East Chicago, Ind. Greg and Angie did some traveling plant visits and trade shows. Coverage of all of these and other meat-industry events was absolutely necessary to get enough information for our weekly publication (delivered to us every Thursday morning).
I ended up taking a trip about once per month after being there about six months. My first trip was in 1986, when I did a profile at the CDC, located in Atlanta, Ga.
Two other out-of-state trips I remember best include a trip to Reno, Nev., for meat packers association meeting where everyone was required to dress western-style; and a three-day trip to Arkansas to visit Tyson Foods with other editors. That trip began with the editors seeing and holding adorable baby chicks.
“Theirs is a short life of 6 to 8 weeks, but a comfortable one,” the Tyson told us as we held the chicks. We would then go on to eat chicken in some form for eight straight meals and get to fly in the company’s private jet. However, we got caught in a bad rainstorm and the flight had to be diverted to Dallas. From there I had to wait for a flight back to Chicago, and the other editors went their ways.
Closer to home, there is one plant visit that I’ll never forget. It was to the Chiappetti Meat Co. near where the old Chicago Stockyards used to be. We saw the slaughtering of veal calves and lambs, of course. But what is imprinted in my mind was seeing a veteran older man, dressed nicely, stacking unprocessed lamb skins in piles as a coworker threw salt from a shovel onto each skin. This man was unfazed by the horrendous stench, as was Greg (who kept a series of photos that panoramically depicted the beef-slaughter process on his office walls). Angie and I, by contrast, were disgusted by the foul odor.
Although I left NP in June 1987, that smell has stuck with me since. Maybe that’s why I still can’t eat lamb chops. NP