At 16, Jessica Wragg applied for a job at the farm shop in her hometown of Chesterfield, England, in order to earn money for clothes, movie tickets and underage piña coladas. And when she was placed behind the all-male butcher counter, she had never held a knife, let alone broken down a lamb carcass. She certainly didn’t expect, then, that this would set into motion a lifelong career in the field of butchery.
This is the subject of Wragg’s debut memoir, Girl on the Block: A True Story of Coming of Age Behind the Counter.
After getting sick her first day on the job (triggered by a co-worker fishing a cow tongue out of a bucket of brine), Wragg nearly threw in the towel, maintaining, "I felt strange being in there: cold and afraid and uncomfortable."
But ultimately, she soldiered on, and over the next ten years Wragg worked her way up the ranks at various butcheries, while simultaneously getting a master's degree in creative writing. But the most interesting learnings came not from sausage or pork crackling, but from the toxic masculinity and sexual harassment that’s all too rampant in the restaurant world. “For a woman in the meat industry,” she writes, “feeling like an outsider is just par for the course.” Indeed, butcher shops are dominated by men who have inherited their jobs from their fathers and grandfathers, and they’re often reluctant, Wragg notes, to give any kind of help to an outsider.