The younger of the two, Berlin Reed, came back out to Portland at the end of the summer after spending a stint working in the Brooklyn (NY) food scene. Most recently, he held the post of butcher at Greene Grape Provisions, a store that seems to be doing a lot right. He basically taught himself how to cut up animals, how to cure bacon (including lamb! bacon! yes!) and how to source the most ethical meat possible. Best part about Berlin, though, is that he used to be a vegan. Militantly. He was so vegan that he wouldn’t even sit next to, let alone have a legitimate conversation with, meat eaters. For him, it had always been an ethics issue. He knew about the horrors of industrial meat production and wanted nothing to do with it.
Once he found good meat, though, his veganism was gonners. His first bite of flesh in 14 years was rib-eye, and he hasn’t looked back. In the last year, he has penned himself The Ethical Butcher, writing a blog, networking with farmers, making insane bacon* and being an advocate for sustainable omnivorism. But all of this is in my story. You should read it.
The part of his story that got left out of editing, and what really got me thinking, was his derision of pescatarians. I know a lot of pescatarians. In fact, most of my vegetarian friends eat fish regularly. I’ve always been a bit confused by that choice, but I never understood why I couldn’t accept it as reasonable. After Berlin and I got to talking, I remembered some images I had seen of shrimp farms in god-knows-where Asia and thought, those look just like the shots of Tyson chicken farms that made me so ill. And then Berlin brought up migration patterns and worldwide oceanic ecosystems and dwindling populations and shipping and … oh yeah, fish and other seafood are just as unsustainable as meat. There just aren’t evil corporations like Tyson for us to shake our fists at. Sure, there is sustainable seafood out there. Programs like the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch do a great job listing safe products, and even give you a really easy color-coded system to check on tomorrow’s future dinner.
Yes, it’s tricky to keep up with fish sustainability. Today’s green light will be tomorrow’s red flag, but really, if you think about it, it’s not that much harder than remembering peaches are not seasonal in December or that there are no winter squash in July. Some seafood (farmed shrimp) will never be sustainable to eat, just like New Zealand kiwis will never lose their giant carbon footprint. So pay attention. If you do choose to eat only fish, do it with the same responsibility you attribute to avoiding meat. Think local. Think seasonal.
Kickstarter Blog November 10, 2009
Posted by cassiem
We’ve heard it a million times before (thanks, Mom) - “You are what you eat.” But whatare we eating these days? Good thing we’ve got folks like Berlin Reed, better known as The Ethical Butcher, around to help us answer that question. Berlin’s butcher company, which specializes in the humane slaughtering of sustainably farmed animals, aims to educate customers on ethical eating choices while offering them bacon cured in everything from watermelon to whiskey. “I enjoy empowering people to make better choices about their food,” Berlin tells us. “I think people are intimidated by so much of the local/organic/sustainable movement. I try to put it into perspective…The info is out there and all you have to do is make a choice.”
Having recently relocated from Brooklyn to Portland, Oregon, Berlin is aiming to take up the cause on the West Coast. He hopes to bring The Ethical Butcher to Portland’s Farmer’s Market by March 2010, and he’s using Kickstarter to do it.
Read what else Berlin had to tell us below. Support his project here.
So you went from militant vegan to butcher - what happened? I’m very curious!
I had been vegetarian since my early teens, I was 26 when I started eating meat again. My vegan days were about 3 years of that time from 19-22 or so. I have always been very interested and passionate about food but I actually worked as an EMT back in those days. I loved cooking, especially trying to make delicious healthy vegetarian foods and I finally started working in food when I moved to NYC in 2007. I first worked in a wine store and fell in love with it my first day. I knew I wanted to make a career in the food world. At that point I was still dedicated to my vegetarianism, so I wanted to gain expertise in a field where that wouldn’t be challenged. I went from the wine store to working as a cheesemonger then cooking and bartending. For a while I even wanted to go to Germany to study to be a Brewmaster. I took the job as a butcher mostly out of necessity. I thought I was interviewing for a cheesemonger position at a new gourmet shop in Brooklyn, after hiring me they told me it would be a couple months before the current monger left and asked if I’d be willing to help out the meat and fish guys. I was hesitant, but needed work so I accepted with full intentions of returning to cheese. A couple months went by and it turned out the guy wasn’t going to leave, which was perfect because by then I had fallen in love with butchery and didn’t want to go back to cheese. While there is definitely a place for vegetarian/vegan/raw chefs in the culinary world, I have always been drawn by the traditional. And what is traditional is milk, eggs, butter, meat, real foods. Working with meat felt right and good and honest.
I was still abstaining from meat about 2 weeks into working there, everyday I wondered to myself if I was ready to start eating meat. All along my major objections to eating meat were related to consumerism and animal rights, specifically I did not wanted to financially support companies that were profiting from the abuse of animals. I never had a problem with the fact that animals are sometimes food. Now that I was the one purchasing the meat, cutting it down and knew exactly were it was coming from, I had no reason not to take a bite. I also felt like not eating meat was holding me back. It is difficult to explain how to cook a London broil, what cut to use for stew or the best steak for a given cooking method if you have not tasted and cooked them yourself. My mentor butcher, Bryan Mayer had a lot to do with it too. He picked up butchery a few months before I did. The two of us just dove in, we were both bitten by the bug and wanted to fill our heads. We are both so dedicated to this work. We actually used to sit over our whiskeys after cutting all day and lament the demise of the oceans due to bad fisheries and the scarcity of truly sustainable beef. A strange conversation to overhear at the bar, I’m sure.
I always say butchery is everything I have ever loved in my life combined into one. It is hard, bloody, physical work based on biology and anatomy that brings about something that is at once aesthetically pleasing, delicious and steeped in history. I found a writer within myself because of butchery. This craft allows me to be political and artistic as well as grounded and connected to my food and my community. I honestly feel this is my destiny. I am the grandson of Alabama hog farmers raised by his German grandmother, what else am I supposed to do?
Talk to me about your cause - why is being an ethical butcher important? How do you convey this to your patrons?
Having ethics and integrity is so important these days when it comes to food sustainability. I think it is the duty of butchers, fishmongers and chefs to start making the difficult choices that consumers can’t or won’t make for themselves. I don’t mean to say people can’t choose what foods they want to eat. Far from it, I do think that we can do better to make sure that all the food choices offered are good choices for consumers AND the environment. I get so upset when I walk around these natural food stores. They implement a color-coding system for fish species- which is exactly what all the reputable fishery guides do, but then they carry “red” choices. That totally defeats the purpose. Your customer may love an item and won’t think much because they are only buying a half pound, but you have to buy 25 lbs to keep it in stock. As a purveyor, we are the ones with the responsibility, the knowledge and buying power to change things. We are also in a position to educate the public about the issues. I enjoy empowering people to make better choices about their food. I think people are intimidated by so much of the local/organic/sustainable movement. I try to put it into perspective. It doesn’t have to be this elitist, expensive venture. The info is out there and all you have to do is make a choice.
You’re working to change the way the meat industry handles its product - what’s your ideal vision?
I think sustainable butchers are going to save the world. My ideal vision is one where butchers and fishmongers are back in the neighborhoods using products from local farms, rivers and lakes as well as responsible fish farms. Where people have a true alternative to cheap diseased meat wrapped in plastic and styrofoam that comes from a hidden room at the back of the supermarket. I loved the relationships I had with our customers in my shop in Brooklyn. They could place special orders, get dinner advice and watch me work feet away from them. I also dream of a public that is knowledgeable and aware of the impact of their choices. I also really want to start a butchery school as well as some sort of international association of like-minded butchers, fishmongers and chefs, with conferences and the whole nine. When people realize that wild salmon populations are more important than the lox on your bagel in February, or that 100% grass-fed beef meansseasonal beef. I want to see heritage breeds return to the market on a large scale and the manufactured breeds created for speed of growth to fall by the wayside. I stop short of calling myself a Luddite, but I am strongly for a return to the way things were. I often think about how, years ago, people thought they were using technology to help future generations by switching to industrial farming methods, trawling the sea floor for bottom-fish or farm-raising fish in open rivers. And now here we are, cool kids getting famous because we make food with our hands. Bakers, butchers, cheesemakers, farmers, we all just want to get it back.
How have people been responding to your use of Kickstarter?
The response to my Kickstarter has been awesome!! My girlfriend actually turned me on to it and I thank her for it every day! It has been an incredible marketing tool and is definitely the only way I will be able to get my business off the ground soon. I know that I am on to something, as far as I know, no one is making bacon like this and especially with sustainability as the standard. With just having moved from NYC to Portland, I am still getting back on my feet. There have been times recently when I have only had 10 bucks to last me a week. I was getting so frustrated with people telling me I was going make millions that I decided to just get going on it in any way I can.
As of this posting, 28 backers have pledged $1,255!! With 50 days to go, that is 64% of the goal!