"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist" - Keyser Soze, paraphrasing Charles Baudelaire
Few things interest us more than talking about food. In the broad sense this includes local culture and heritage, livestock, sustainable agriculture, and conservation. None of these things exists in a bubble. In fact, many of our most interesting conversations about food are with people who may not understand the full scope of reasoning behind what we are doing.
Which is why we want to tell you that almost nothing we sell in the shop is certified organic.
But wait! You haven’t been hoodwinked. Our products are not certified organic because quite frankly, they are beyond organic. The need for organic certification and labeling is rooted in a noble cause, which is the creation and maintenance of a transparent food production system. And yet, for all the good that this program does, it falls short of what truly local food offers.
Recently, my wife was having a conversation about local food with one of her colleagues. He told her that high quality meat is important to him, which is why he tries to buy all of his meat from Whole Foods. This isn’t the first time we have heard something to this effect. These statements are clear evidence of why the conversations about quality farming, and why Left Bank Butchery operates the way that it is does, are so important.
In an effort to be more transparent, Whole Foods uses Global Animal Partnership’s 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating Standard. According to their website, “It's important to note that getting to Step 1 is a great accomplishment! Step 1 requires more from our farmers and ranchers than we have ever asked before.” This is nonsense. Steps 1 & 2 of this rating system don’t even require animals to have access to the outdoors! It isn’t until Step 4 that the notion of a pasture is introduced. When you walk through a Whole Foods store, almost all of the meat is rated a 1 or a 2. This is nothing to be proud of. This applies to both the consumer and the producer. This meat still comes from factory farms. It’s just that it doesn’t come from the worst of the factory farms. What we are doing at Left Bank Butchery is not in the same league. I would argue that it’s not even in the same sport.
Many local farms, including the farms that supply our meat, operate as polycultures. They are vastly different from the monoculture farms of endless single crop fields and windowless chicken houses. Polyculture farms work hard to imitate the diversity of natural ecosystems. This often means more work for the farmers, but the results of working with nature, instead of against it, speak for themselves.
Polycultures reduce susceptibility to disease and increase local biodiversity. When chickens follow cows through a pasture, they eat parasites like worms and ticks, and spread fertilizer as they pick through leftover manure. They operate as part of a larger system, which includes wildlife - rodents, snakes, and non-livestock birds. The result is healthy, lush pastures, which yield naturally healthy livestock. Braeburn Farm, which supplies us with most of our beef, is home to a stream that actually leaves the farm with water that is cleaner than when it entered. Think about that for a minute. The pasture is so healthy that it actually makes the water better. This is almost unheard of in the age of modern farming, and is a stark contrast to the abhorrent manure pits of industrial livestock operations.
It’s sad to think that the standard for food production is so low that transparency is considered a luxury. For us, it is a given. When we designed the butcher shop, it was important to us that the cutting room be entirely visible to the customer. The farmers that supply our shop are proud of their farms, and love nothing more than to give tours to those who are interested in seeing what a healthy farm looks like.
Soon, we will be rolling out a series of classes that will be focused on more than just a single aspect of butchery. These classes will be hands on, and will cover the usual subjects of general butchery, sausage making, and curing. Most importantly, we will focus an entire class on animal husbandry, which will include the farming practices that distinguish our products from almost anything you will find in the grocery store.
Remember that you have a choice about what you put into your body. Every time you make a purchase, especially of food, you are voting with your hard earned dollars to support the food sources that are important to you.