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I recently learned that the preferred term in the meat industry for breaking down an animal body into consumer cuts is "fabricate".

This is at odds with the common use of the word, which is a synonym for invent, create, construct, manufacture, or assemble. It comes from the latin "fabricatus", which means pretty much the same thing.

To me, "fabricating an animal" suggests building one out of smaller parts, not cutting one up.

How did the culinary use of "fabricate" come to be?

  • Thank you for your interesting question. I don't have a ready answer, but perhaps it's a reference to forming the ready-to-cook pieces, not the deconstruction of the whole. – Lawrence May 3 '18 at 7:02
  • See this description at alanpedia.com, especially the term yield (focusing on the result): "The process of using any or all of the techniques of cutting, deboning and trimming beef carcasses and primals into subprimal and/or retail cuts that meet specific market needs. Fabrication will yield not only the desired market-ready cuts, but also beef trimmings, fat and bone which can be used in other industry processes." – Lawrence May 3 '18 at 7:04
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    It's unusual and new to me so I won't answer unless I can back this up with sources. Using fabricate to mean manufacture (from raw materials) is widespread. Then treating a carcass as raw material makes sense, so fabricating joints (etc.) means the same as butchering the carcass. The meat industry has a history of using less bloody terms where possible (abattoir vs slaughterhouse, stun vs. blow the brains out) so fabricate as a euphemism for butcher is a small step. Then all we have to do is apply the verb to the carcass rather than the joints, a move that's common in jargon. – Chris H May 3 '18 at 7:15
  • Even if wrong I hope those hints might help in digging up (or dismissing) some intermediate steps – Chris H May 3 '18 at 7:16
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    The expression appears to be around from the '50s: books.google.com/ngrams/… – user067531 May 3 '18 at 9:48
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As my rather speculative comment* has more votes than any of the answers, I felt I should try to track down some sources.

So first we take fabricate (Cambridge: especially US to produce a product, especially in an industrial process). That's clear enough in its relation to production. The example at that link is fabricating steel, which is made from raw materials.

A carcase (Oxford: 1.1 The trunk of an animal such as a cow, sheep, or pig, for cutting up as meat.) is easy to think of as a raw material in meat production.

The step I was unsure about is that of fabricating cuts of meat from a carcase. The (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation, in their Guidelines for slaughtering, meat cutting and further processing (1991), say:

Nowadays more processors are removing the bones thus fabricating a boneless rump (chump) and a boneless ham.

This is a pretty clear use presumably by experts in the field of the sense of fabricating the end product from the carcase. Older results to illustrate this step can be found by searching google books for meat fabrication.

Jargon does funny things to the meanings of words, and the meat industry has a long history of moving towards less bloody terms (e.g. abattoir vs. slaughterhouse). Fabricate as a replacement for butcher (the sensational meaning V kill (a person or people) indiscriminately or brutally is quite common) fits this pattern. An instructive intermediate quote is

some UK meat cutters purchase head-on beef carcasses, open the skull to extract and merchandize the brain – for breakfast food – and then fabricate the carcass into steaks

Removal and handling of BSE specified risk material G.C. Smith, in Improving the Safety of Fresh Meat, 2005 quoted here, emphasis mine

This is useful because it has the sense of fabricating the raw material into products; it's a small step from fabricating cuts of meat and a small step to fabricating a carcase.

A Google books search for "carcass fabrication", "fabricate the carcase", etc. find nothing, though there are plenty of web hits, suggesting that this use is fairly new. That said, Encyclopedia of Animal Science, Wilson G. Pond (Ed), 2004, does have a section entitled "Carcass Fabrication".

It's also worth noting that applying fabricate to the raw materials rather than the finished poduct isn't new:

As desiener of the Lone Star Steel Company plant in Dainger field, Texas, he is at present interested in trying to obtain for that company the approval of Pres ident Roosevelt for the expenditure of $40,000,000 with which to provide a fully integrated plant so that it can fabricate the iron ore it processes at its present huge establishment.

The Evening News from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania December 22, 1943, OCR errors retained


* I originally said:

It's unusual and new to me so I won't answer unless I can back this up with sources. Using fabricate to mean manufacture (from raw materials) is widespread. Then treating a carcass as raw material makes sense, so fabricating joints (etc.) means the same as butchering the carcass. The meat industry has a history of using less bloody terms where possible (abattoir vs slaughterhouse, stun vs. blow the brains out) so fabricate as a euphemism for butcher is a small step. Then all we have to do is apply the verb to the carcass rather than the joints, a move that's common in jargon.

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From https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fabric

2: The walls, floor, and roof of a building.

‘decay and neglect are slowly eating away at the building's fabric’

Synonyms

structure, framework, frame, form, make-up, constitution, composition, construction, organization, infrastructure, foundations, mechanisms, anatomy, essence.

Therefore, “to fabricate” could be to it to break it down to is constituent parts (i.e. its fabric, e.g. anatomical parts).

  • Dictionary seems to feel it's more like the other way 'round. A "fabric" is something made. – Tom Hundt May 11 '18 at 4:20
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"Designed foods" or, as they are sometimes called, "fabricated foods" are manufactured foods that contain a significant amount of separated "component" as contrasted with the traditional whole commodity ... Designed foods occur in many classes including baked goods, meat products, snacks, baby foods, ... etc Gov. of Canada

3D food fabrication

Here is a Science Direct article: fabricated food

1982 patent for Fabricated food products from textured protein particles

Last, ngram search of fabricated food:

ngram fabricated food

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I suspect the English verb to fabricate would etymologically find its way back to Latin facere, to make. Butchers make a particular cut of meat out of a side of beef, so they are making steaks and ground beef and stuff that will fit in your oven and on your stove. I don't have ready access to OED, but I'd welcome anyone with ready access to look up the history of the word.

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My Shorter OED (2007) says,

1 Make with skill; manufacture; construct (something material or abstract). IME.
 b Form into the shape required for a finished product.  e20.
2 Invent (a lie, dishonest story, etc.); forge (a document). I18.

So there you go. To make a final product out of raw materials, so to speak.

If you think that's weird... well, you know, in the software biz, the version of a system that's up and running and available for use is "in production".

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