We asked Rebecca Thistlewaite, of the excellent meat and agriculture blog, Honest Meat, to share her viewpoint about butchery and she shared this thoughtful exploration of The Oath that all Butcher’s Guild members sign when they join us. We love hearing the importance of honest communication from a farmer’s perspective. The good practices of our members have ramifications from the farm to the plate, which is one of the reasons butchers have such value.
As a Butcher’s Guild member you take an oath to uphold certain values as you practice your
craft and run your business. What does it look like to embody these values as it pertains to the
sourcing of your meat and how you present it to your customers?
Heart: I maintain integrity in relationships with customers and vendors. Relationship integrity
means several things- transparency, fair pricing negotiations, upholding quality, and being
truthful about your challenges. In short, it is about honesty. Are you telling your customers
the full story of your meat products? Are you using words that obfuscate the truth or ones that
explain exactly how the animal was raised, where it was raised, and who the actual farmer is?
When you say “local”, what does that mean exactly? When you say “natural”, what are the actual
practices behind that word? Being clear about what your definitions are will help educate your
customers and will demonstrate your integrity. Commit to that honesty.
Source: I aim to support local, sustainable farms and practice whole animal butchery. It can be
challenging to call up several different farmers to order meat, but have you even tried? Are you
willing to build and strengthen relationships with farmers who are upholding your values and
need time to produce the volume that you need? Or do you flit around buying a little bit here
and there but not making that commitment to see a farmer grow to scale? Do you buy meat from
a local farmer for special events but then go back to your ‘regular’ meat middleman the rest of
the time? What is preventing you from making that commitment to the local farmer? Make sure
you define what local and sustainable means to you so you can be transparent, as mentioned
above. Go visit the farms in person so you can improve your understanding of animal production
practices. Ask questions, dig a little deeper. If an animal is raised in confinement in Canada and
fed conventional, GMO feeds and then slaughtered in your state and processed into sausage,
don’t call that local, don’t call that sustainable. Be truthful about what it is and work to find more
values-based sources closer to home.
Hand: I strive to improve my knife skills and knowledge of the trade. You know this one
better than I do. But consider that being a skilled and knowledgeable butcher starts at the farm.
Understand how animals are raised and killed and maybe even participate in that process so you
can appreciate all the details, logistics, and energy that goes into meat production. Learn to have
reverence for the animal whose life was given for the meat in your walk-in- this will encourage
you to work even harder to utilize the whole animal to it’s maximum value and reduce waste
wherever possible. These actions will not only make you a more conscientious butcher but also a
better ambassador for the meat you are selling.
Voice: I am an active community member and encourage a healthy food system. Being an
advocate for a healthy food system must start with how you eat yourself, how you work with
your supply chain, how you communicate your values and educate your consumers. Every dollar
you spend is a vote for the food system you want to see. If your dollars are going to investor-
owned corporations, confinement animal production, farms that feed conventional, GMO
grains, or those that exploit their workers or turn their contract farmers into serfs, than that is the
farming system that will remain the status quo. If you want to see a more diversified, family-
operated, grass and pasture-based, non-GMO and non-chemical food system, than put your time
and money into it. If your regular suppliers are not upholding all the values that you strive for,
communicate to them what you would like to see. Then commit to work with them through their transition
to more sustainable practices. We will all be better off for it.
Rebecca Thistlethwaite and her family spent a year on the road in their “Pirate RV” visiting inspiring
organic farms of all shapes and sizes in order to better understand successful and sustainable business models for a new book they are publishing with Chelsea Green Publishers in 2012. Previously, she ran a profitable, mid-scale farming business with her husband raising pasture-based livestock and poultry in California and continues to write about all things meaty and farmy at her blog www.honestmeat.com