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Book review: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat August 27, 2012

Posted by Angelique in Food ethics.
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I like this book. I like the story of the people who wrote it. What’s not to like about a former vegan and (almost-) vegetarian running a butcher shop? Joshua and Jessica Applestone, owner-proprietors of Fleisher’s Meats in New York’s Hudson Valley, want to tell you what’s up with meat and butchers. If you don’t already have a lurking fascination for the process of turning animals into meat, you should probably skip The Butcher’s Guide, because most of it’s pretty technical. But if you do, this butcher’s bible, with its bluntly friendly tone and gritty black-and-white photos of carcasses slung over tattooed shoulders, might just be for you.

TBG is full of practical information about the part of thoughtful eating that this blog doesn’t cover; that is, what happens after the animal is killed, both in the butcher shop and later, in the home kitchen. Chapters devoted to each type of meat cover everything from breeds to primal cuts to recipes. Learn how to hold a knife like a pro, with the pistol grip or the surgeon grip. How to boil the piss out of kidneys. The virtues of wood vs. plastic cutting boards. How to stuff a sausage.

TBG also has a short chapter on sourcing sustainable, humanely-raised meat, which does overlap with my project here. It’s not bad for a ten-page overview of a really complicated topic, but I have some quibbles. The Applestones stock grain-finished beef in their shop and acknowledge that the cattle providing it are typically fed corn. They mention the health concerns about this type of beef but not the ethical concerns, which arise from the fact that eating significant amounts of corn gives cattle sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) – basically, a constant stomachache. The Applestones discuss third-party certifications and give a thumbs-up to Animal Welfare Approved, which I consider the gold standard of certifiers. But they qualify their approval by saying that AWA’s standards don’t make sense for all farmers without elaborating on why. The real question is, do they make sense for all animals, and if so, they’d better make sense for the farmers or the farmers shouldn’t be raising the animals.

Quibbles aside, TBG succeeds in being both entertaining and informative, so if you’re a butcher-to-be or just really interested in the best dry-heat methods for cooking a lamb saddle, give it a read.



1. sustainablefarminginwi - August 27, 2012

I am actually working on getting AWA certified right now. AWA calls there program a \”birth to slaughter\” program. It can get tricky for farmers that don\’t keep their animals from birth to slaughter. For instance, I have in the past kept my chickens for two years and then found them pet homes in the community. I am lucky to live in an area where hens can be kept as pets in the city and there is a lot of demand. I would rather the animal get to live out its life then be butchered as a stewing hen but AWA wants me to phase this out of my practices. Another potential down side to the program is that animals must be slaughtered at an AWA plant. This would be my preference as well, but sometimes there is not an AWA certified plant nearby. There is not a certified plant for poultry in my state. This limits me to slaughtering on farm, which limits my sales to on farm and prevents me from selling at farmers markets, restaurants or grocery stores. I believe very strongly in the program (if I didn\’t I would not bother getting certified because the certification process is rigorous).but I can see how the program can be a poor fit for some farmers. I am giving up several revenue streams to be in the program, its worth it for me, but it might be a harder sell in different situations.

Angelique - August 30, 2012

Thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree about AWA’s program – it’s a wonderful program, and I understand why they have the requirements they do, but it can be difficult for even the best farmers to fulfill their requirements if their options (e.g., slaughterhouses) are limited. The people I’ve spoken with at AWA understand that too, and are doing their best to make it easier for farmers to work with them.

sustainablefarminginwi - August 30, 2012

The staff at AWA is AWESOME! But some things, like slaughterhouse they will NOT compromise on. I understand why, but it makes me have to make some difficult choices. Doing a farmers market would be one of the best ways to establish a customer base as I have been farming for less than a year…But I can’t do that because I don’t have an approved slaughterhouse. I am hoping that the AWA certification, if it all goes through, will be enough to help draw in new customers. If not, I might have to give up the certification in the future. I dearly hope that as the AWA program grows everything becomes more accessible. I think that will be good for farmers, animals and consumers. 🙂

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