Here's an expanded version of the great conversation I had with Willamette Week's Kate Williams a few weeks ago. There's also a link to Kickstarter's blog, which now features
The Ethical Butcher!

Excerpt from 'Sea Salted' blog November 8, 2009

I recently got to write up a short piece for WW on a couple of up-and-coming butchers in the Portland area. Both are making their names for themselves with a badge of sustainability, and both have given me a lot of food (heh) for thought surrounding this issue.

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

Creator Q&A: The Ethical Butcher
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!


Ask The Ethical Butcher--November 2009

I put out a message a few weeks ago asking if anyone had any burning meat-related questions. I got several good ones and here are the answers. I liked doing these so much that I am going to continue this as a monthly feature. Feel free to send in your meat/fish questions and I'll answer them as they pile up.


How long before bacon goes rancid? How about the grease you pour off? How long can you cook with it if you leave it out of the fridge? What if you leave it in? Should you strain it or anything?----Andrea Frost

Wow. So first the bacon. Commercial bacon by law will have an expiration date printed on the package. If you've lost the packaging, a good bet is 7-10 days after opening the package. As for the grease, fats and oils last a very, very long time, some say indefinitely. Fat will eventually go rancid, so give the grease or the bacon itself a whiff before you use it if you are in doubt. Whether you keep the grease at room temp, in the fridge, or in the freezer is really up to you. What is important is that you strain out all the bacon bits each time you add more fat to the container. While fats are highly resistant to decomposition and contamination, the little bits of meat are not. The best way to strain the bits out is to place a paper towel over the container and pour the drippings through it. The hotter the pan and drippings are, the easier and faster the straining will be. If you decide to keep your grease at room temp, be sure to clean outside of the container very well during the hot months or you'll be inviting critters. Better yet, just keep it in the fridge during that time. Bacon grease is an amazingly versatile rendered fat, I use it to start most of my soups and stews and it makes incredible sauteed vegetables.

Why do some people like crispy bacon when it's obviously so much better when it's kind of floppy and full of juicy fat? Also, please dispel the myth that wooden cutting boards are unsanitary. Thanks. -----Cecily Upton

This question is great! It cracks me up because I admit I am firmly in Camp Crispy. Maybe if I am using it in another dish, say pasta, then and only then will I accept soggy bacon. I love the chewy, fatty, crunch of bacon. The higher the meat-to-fat ratio, the better. Actually, last winter, I stopped curing bacon for a couple months during winter when the fat distribution became too high due to the pig's winter diet-- undesirable for someone who prefers a meaty, crisp strip. Like myself and Upton, I think many people are staunchly in one camp or the other, but there are definitely loyal bacon fans who love it either way. Which side are you on?

And yes, I would very much like to dispel the myth that plastic cutting boards are more sanitary than wooden ones. I believe much of the misinformation is due to the fact that the UDSA required plastic boards in food handling environments until relatively recently. With the findings of a 1994 UC Davis study however, hardwood boards were permitted. Even so, plastic boards are the industry standard despite clear evidence that wooden boards are as safe, if not much more so, than plastic. The study compared 10 species of hardwood, 4 plastic polymers, both new and with knife marks, when exposed to five of the most common bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses. Those bacteria were: E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus.

The findings of the study may surprise those who put their faith in plastic boards and will put a feather in the hat of wooden board fans. Wooden boards have actually been found to be MORE sanitary than plastic for several reasons. Bacteria tested on new wooden boards was not present after a short time, while plastic boards allowed the bacteria to remain until the board was cleaned. Since you should be cleaning boards after cutting, this alone may not be of note. What is though, is the fact that scarred (used) boards of wood were found to have the same result, while plastic boards with lots of knife marks were impossible to disinfect when washing by hand, especially when food residues, like animal fats were present. On the other hand, most home dishwashers only reach 120-140F, not nearly the 190F required to properly sanitize. As a non-porous surface, a plastic board with a fair amount of knife wear leaves little nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide. If bacteria is not present on the wooden boards, where did it go? Wood, of course is a porous material, so it allows the bacteria to soak in. This seems like it would be a problem and is the argument many use against wooden boards, but the bacteria surprisingly stop multiplying once trapped inside and die. The bacteria does not migrate back to the surface, it can only be detected again by either splitting the board in two, gouging into the surface or forcing water THROUGH the board, obviously none of these are instances that would occur under normal circumstances in home or professional kitchens. Their conclusion after this study?

Wooden cutting boards are not a hazard to human health, but plastic cutting boards may be.”

Another California study of home kitchens in 1992 showed that those using wooden boards were only 42% as likely as average to contract Salmonella as those who used plastic. Homes using plastic boards were found to be TWICE as likely as the average to contract Salmonella. Aside from these advantages to using wooden boards, they have tradition and history on their side. They last generations and unlike plastic boards, which have to be discarded and replaced frequently due to the bacteria-friendly worn surface, wooden boards can be resurfaced to see another day, or many.

Why am I overcome with the urge to say “BOO-YA!” right now?

When meat is marinated and properly refrigerated how long does it have before it can no longer be cooked and consumed? I was trying this Korean BBQ marinade that I got offline with thinly sliced portions of boneless rib-eye. The meat was marinating for 3 days but I was afraid to eat it. I couldn't tell if it was bad because the aroma of the marinade was so overpowering (in a good way!)----Kawika Ridep

The answer really depends on the type of meat used as well as the condition it was in prior to being marinated. If the rib-eye you used was still fresh when it was marinated, it should have been fine after 3 days. In fact, it was probably perfectly tender. In winter, I marinate my stew beef for 2 to 3 days as a rule. The key is there must be a fair amount of salt and/or acidic ingredients to stave off bacteria growth and to aid in breaking down collagen. Marinating can often be used as a way to buy yourself an extra day or two on meat that is starting to lose its appeal, so if the beef, pork or lamb is already on its way out, you def want to cook it the next day. Freshness is difficult to assess with marinated meats because you can't smell the meat and often the marinade will skew the color of the meat as well. Fish shouldn't be marinated for more than a few hours as the delicate nature of the flesh means that soaking in salt or acids will actually partially cook your fish, making it unsafe to eat later. You have to rely on touch and trust your gut. Back at the shop, Bryan and I would usually cook up a very small piece of the meat in question, with a little practice you can taste when meat is off, before the point where it will make you sick. Meat that is questionable will have a sort of moist, sticky surface and will lose some of it's firmness, as the muscle begins to decompose. This is a much better sign to go off of given that smell can be hidden by the aromas of your marinade.

General tips for choosing meat at the butcher's or supermarket would be very useful. What does a best-case chicken look like? How do I pick a delicious brisket?---Leah Reilly

Well my first tip would be to go to a knowledgeable and trustworthy butcher. If you form a relationship with one who knows what they are talking about and is happy to share that knowledge, you'll be fine. They'll be able to give you any advice you need, whether it's which cut of lamb is best for the grill or how long to cook a pork shoulder. A good butcher will help you save money by selecting less expensive cuts when possible without sacrificing taste. Short of that, a bit of research and trial and error are the best way to figure out what cuts work best for you and for what purpose. For instance, without much effort you can figure out what cuts of beef are good for roasting, braising, grilling or broiling and how to recognize them in the store.

A good chicken has taut, light skin that is not yellowed, is moist but not sticky and should not smell of anything. If you are buying chicken from a shop that doesn't wrap their meats, don't be alarmed by a bit of dry skin, it's only water that has evaporated, which bodes well for you. Once again, give it a whiff. I have always thought that chicken has sort of a chlorine smell when it starts to turn, but maybe that's just my nose. Truly bad chicken is unmistakable, I am still scarred from the time I stuck my entire forearm into a box of very spoiled chicken breasts on accident (shudders).

I would highly recommend going to a directly to a butcher if you want the best brisket. Brisket comes from the chest and is thus a pretty tough slab of meat. It is often split in two or three pieces and then trimmed of fat to the extent that either the butcher feels is necessary or the customer requests. This is why it's a good idea to go to the butcher. You can decide which piece you want, or request that it be kept whole. You will also be able to ask the butcher to leave or remove as much fat as you prefer, depending on the method of cooking. For grilling you are going to want it pretty lean, whereas you definitely want to keep on a good amount of fat for braising.


The Bacon Gospel : BCN/PDX is off and running!

Fundraising for Portland leg of The Bacon Gospel is gaining momentum!
Check out the links and articles below that are drumming up attention and hopefully donors so this business can get off the ground!

While it was a fun challenge running Bacon for Brooklyn on a word-of-mouth basis, I am really looking forward to sharing this product with the public and having a chance to draw more people into the sustainability dialogue. I am also thrilled about all the donors who have pledged at the "Name Your Own Flavor" level, so far there will be 7 new recipes added!
I wonder what those people are dreaming up....

*hint*I am still waiting for someone to request gold bacon!





I am working on a pretty funny and informative FAQ post. The questions I've gotten have been great! Should be up in the next few days...