When Estonian families sit down to their Christmas dinners next week, many of their tables will include traditional staples like liver pâté and the popular holiday favourite blood sausage. While some still make their own, I make sure that their store-bought versions taste just right. My name is Risto Veinglas, and I am a sausage cutter operator at Nõo Lihatööstus Meat Processing Plant.
My day begins at different times, as I work in shifts. On days when I work the morning shift, however, my day begins with the alarm going off at four in the morning. I then start out with a cup of coffee, after which I get ready in the bathroom, get dressed, and head out the door. My commute to work isn't long — it's just a 10- to 15-minute walk away.
I moved to the hamlet of Nõo, just southwest of Tartu, over six years ago. I started looking for work, and because I didn't want to start working far from home, I began my job hunt by looking into local companies. It didn't take long for the local meat processing company Nõo Lihatööstus to get in touch with me. By now I have worked for them for six years already.
When I get to work, I go through the security gate and around the side of the building to the main entrance, just like everyone else at the company — from the other blue-collar employees right up to the CEO himself.
Once I reach the second floor, I change out of my street clothes and into my work clothes, which include no-slip shoes and a white smock and trousers, and then head into the plant itself, which is divided roughly in half, to prevent cross-contamination between packaging and raw meats processing. Before entering, I wash and disinfect my hands, kind of like a surgeon scrubs in before a surgery.
Running the cutter
When I arrive at my station, the first thing I do is take a quick look at the day's agenda so that I can plan the workday to maximise and optimise production. Because I am a shift worker, I have to work as quickly as possible in the morning to ensure that the next "link" isn't held up and doesn't have to wait for me when they show up for the beginning of their shift.
By trade I am a sausage cutter operator. You could call me a sausage-maker and you wouldn't be wrong, but I am responsible for just one specific step in the sausage-making process.
I prepare a variety of different sausage mixtures which in the following stages are made into different types of sausage, from blood sausage to salamis, that later reach shops and ultimately customers' dinner tables.
I prepare these mixtures in a large machine known as a cutter, which, while large and imposing-looking, isn't much different from the food processor in your kitchen at home, except that it simultaneously cooks the mixture as it processes it. Some people have said it resembles a spaceship, especially when it opens and steam pours out out it.
The cutter itself does the hard work, but I run it using a keypad covered in protective plastic, and at the right times mix in salt and other ingredients according to exact recipes to make sure the final product tastes just right. If I were to forget to add the salt to a batch of sausage mixture, for example, the entire batch would be ruined.
While I do my work using a machine, as do my coworkers who are responsible for the next steps in the sausage-making process, I appreciate how difficult it is to make blood sausage, for example, by hand, as I grew up in the countryside and we would make it by hand at home, just like many diaspora Estonians still do today.
Early to work, home for lunch
When I have managed to work far enough ahead, I take my first break of the day, usually between 7:00-8:00. I have 30 minutes, and I usually drink a cup of tea, which helps warm me up — as I work in part of the plant cooled enough to keep raw meat at safe temperatures — and eat breakfast. On these days, I don't eat breakfast before work because I don't have much of an appetite that early in the morning.
What I like about my job is that I can actually make something. The work I do may seem unbearably repetitive for some people, especially because I work the same machine every day, but personally I don't think I would enjoy just sitting in an office and staring at a computer screen day after day. What I especially like about my job is that I can actually move around.
I take my second break of the day, which also lasts 30 minutes, somewhere between 10:00-11:00. At that point I'll have another cup of tea, occasionally a cup of coffee, before returning to work for the final part of my shift. My morning shift ends at 13:30, after which I head back home, greet my family, and have lunch.
We had a son in March, which I consider a happy "moment" that will last for years to come. Having a child has meant a lot of lifestyle changes. I have to take into consideration that there is someone in addition to my wife who is waiting for me to get home and spend time with them. After work, I try to spend the entire afternoon and evening with our son, giving my wife free time as well as a chance to do some chores.
While I haven't gone as much recently, I am into skating — both in-line skating in the summer as well as ice skating in the winter. I can't wait until my son is a little older and we can go skating together. I also love just going camping with my family, which we try to do once or twice every summer.
We currently live in a flat and my dream would be to live in a house with a big, private backyard, but overall, I am pleased with my current living situation, and have no big changes planned.
In a broader context, however, I think everyone should take a moment and think about what they could do differently to make things better for everyone. You can't always think about yourself, and we can't make the world a better place if others don't want to.
Especially now that it's Christmas, all that would take right now is for people to just slow down in their busy lives, and smile at one another more. And spend more time with their loved ones. This is what I make a point to do every day.
We eat dinner around 18:00, and after that start to wind down for the evening. We get our son ready for bed, and he goes down at 19:00, tired from a long day after waking up early.
After my wife puts my son to bed, I have a little time to myself. I'll go online for a bit, read the news, or watch some TV. Somewhere around 20:00-21:00, I'll get myself ready for bed and head to sleep myself, because I'll be up early again in the morning.
Day in the Life is a new weekly series by ERR News telling the stories of everyday Estonians, their livelihoods, and their lives. If you know someone whose story you feel should be told, email us at [email protected].
Editor: Dario Cavegn