where our meat comes from

brandon in the truck

Our friend Brandon, here on Vashon Island, is a butcher. He doesn’t work in a grocery story or a commercial butcher shop. He works out of a small shop —— a space that used to be a sun-room in a home —— to break down the carcasses of lambs, pigs, and cows. This is half a lamb, raised by a farmer on Vashon, slaughtered by Brandon, and now hanging in the back of his truck.

Brandon and his wife Lauren are working hard and doing good work, trying to bring back an old way of butchering and being with meat to a culture that is moving increasingly fast. We like them. We like the work they do.

We really think you should help back the Kickstarter they have running now. They’re trying to raise $100,000 to build a butcher shop and slaughter truck here on Vashon.

WARNING: If you don’t want to look at photographs of meat being butchered, do not look at the rest of this post.

meat on the butcher block

When I was growing up, I never fully comprehended that the burgers and pork chops I ate came from animals. Sure, I read Charlotte’s Web and tried to not eat bacon for awhile after. But all our meat came shrink-wrapped in yellow styrofoam trays. It was pretty easy to ignore the origins of my meal that way.

brandon

Brandon is working hard to show people the origins of their meat. But he also wants to show them how meditative and moving it can be to butcher the pig, to pay homage to the animal, to honor the life that was given.

Brandon, his wife Lauren, and their partner Andrew have been making videos for Farmstead Meatsmith, beautiful videos showing people how to butcher their meat. One of the things they would like to do with the Kickstarter money, if they are successful, is make more videos. They want more people participating in this practice.

brandon cutting lamb

Watching Brandon cutting down this lamb carcass today, I was struck by this: I never fully understood why call this thick wooden island in the kitchen a butcher block. Now, I do. Look how scarred and weathered and real this is.

brandon and wallace

Danny and I loved watching Brandon butcher the lamb with his son watching.

“Dad, what part is that?” Wallace asked, curious and pragmatic at the same time.

“That’s the shoulder, buddy. Like your shoulder, right here,” Brandon said as he gestured to his shoulder, then bowed his head and went back to work.

For this little guy, there was no ickiness to what his his dad was doing. He was doing his work.

brandon's drawings on the wall

In fact, this drawing of a pig that hangs on the wall comes from the name Wallace gave four boars Brandon sold to a local farmer: Gary, Mary, Milly, and Dilly.

Brandon and Lauren’s three boys know where their meat comes from.

brandon slicing lamb

I was a vegetarian for more than 10 years. You could not have told me that some day I would be standing in the studio of a friend on Vashon, watching him slice up a lamb carcass and noticing how beautiful the meat looked in the light.

brandon showing the lamb

Danny and I both feel strongly that we want to know where our meat comes from. We want to eat meat — and feed it to our daughter — that comes from animals that have been raised well, treated well, and had a good death. We’re lucky to live in an area where this kind of meat is readily available.

Having Brandon’s butcher shop, if the Kickstarter is successful, would make it much easier for all of us on Vashon Island to buy such meat on a regular basis.

loin chops

Brandon told me, as he broke down these loin chops, that he wants this campaign to be successful for everyone, not just those of us on Vashon. He wants to make more videos that everyone can watch. He wants to spread the word to other communities that they can make this happen too.

Lauren told us today that most of the backers they have seen for their campaign so far? Small farmers. These are people with not much money and back-breaking work. But these farmers want a return to local economies, butcher shops that work on barter and trade, and slaughter trucks that can come to the farm and give their animals a decent death. So they have been giving.

Maybe you would like to give too.

cleaver and scraps

I live with a chef who loves to butcher meat. He finds it meditative. If you gave him a case of lamb racks, he’d have no problem butchering the entire case, truly concentrating and enjoying it all. I think meat tastes different when it has been given this kind of care. But before I met Danny, I didn’t even know how to break down a chicken. I bought chicken thighs and chicken breasts separately, shrink-wrapped on styrofoam trays.

I’ve been on a real journey with food these last eight years, after learning I can’t eat gluten. Lately, a big part of my experience has been trying to learn where every bit of food I eat comes from. Sometimes, once I know the stories, I stop eating that non-food food. But watching Brandon butcher a lamb today, I would be honored to cook and eat that lamb shoulder. That would make a pretty meaningful dinner for us here.

If you feel like it, here’s where you can support Brandon and Lauren’s Kickstarter. And please help spread the word.

31 comments on “where our meat comes from

    1. shauna

      Yes. Seriously. We’re all going to die. I’d much rather have a humane death than not. And since I make the choice to eat meat, I hope the same for those animals.

      1. Michelle

        Well said. Thank you. I was a vegetarian for seven years, for ethical reasons. Now the thing I don’t eat for ethical reasons? Conventionally grown strawberries. My life has taken some turns I did not see coming.

  1. Jenn Sutherland

    Oh Shauna, thank you for sharing this Kickstarter with the world. We too, love knowing the farmers who raise and butcher our meat, and what Brandon and his family is doing on Vashon and with their videos is so needed in this world. I truly hope they are successful — so I can come visit the shop!

  2. Jan

    I was a vegetarian for about six years. I rarely felt physically good. I went back to eating meat (in very small portions–it doesn’t take much) and felt so much better. I do have a hard time with the mass slaughtering practices and with the fact that all U.S. meat comes from very few sources (4 companies at the most). I look for meat that is grass fed and from local sources.
    If you slaughter humanely and respectfully you are going along with a natural process. Meat is not forbidden to mankind. If you anthropomorphize animals, of course you will have a big problem with their death and with eating them.
    I regularly hear from vegan friends that their hemoglobin/iron is dangerously low. They usually lose all of their stamina, and require a Dr. visit, and iron. I always tell them to eat meat for about a week and see what happens.

  3. Janet Kemper

    This is a great post, and I Love the pictures. I have been educating myself in the last few years of where my food is coming from. I recently decided I need to take a butchery class, as I don’t know how to even break down a chicken.

  4. Doriantake

    Bravo — to you and to the butcher.The choice of whether or not to eat meat is a complex one for any ethical omnivore, and people like Brandon are a treasure to any community that cares about where their meat comes from. Have you read Tovar Cerulli’s book “The Mindful Carnivore”? Good stuff there.

  5. Patti Cheatham

    This is another of your posts where I find myself nodding in approval or understanding while reading it. I grew up with hunters, fishermen and men who knew how to humanely slaughter and butcher meat, meat of all varieties. Because of this upbringing I was taught early on to appreciate what was served at meal time. I love the idea of barter and locally raised, in my opinion, it can’t get any better than that!

  6. Dusty

    Thank you for sharing this post and great pics, espcially the one with little Mr. Wallace watching Dad. My family and I live in rural northern California and we too love growing our own food. That includes as much of our meat as possible. It makes such a difference when you eat meat that has had a wonderful life and has been slaughtered with dignity. I love that the small farmer movement is growing everywhere in the US! Good Luck to this family.

  7. Kasey

    Hi Shauna! I feel like I could write pages and pages about this topic but will try to keep things concise. Mostly, I just want to say thank you for sharing your writing with us, and for this post in particular. “Where our meat comes from” is a subject that is especially important to me because I’m one of those people who raises the food that helps feed our country. My family and I work very, very hard to be ethical stewards of the land, and it seems disrespectful to both the critters and the folks who raise them to support inhumane slaughtering practices and meat counters where you can buy 24 sad little pork chops resting on a bloody foam tray, neatly wrapped in plastic. Mmmmm.…doesn’t that sound appetizing?! An under-recognized and under-appreciated person who can change this scenario — and who can guarantee that the consumer is receiving the quality product that I want you to receive — is your friendly, knowledgeable, skilled local butcher. I sincerely hope that Vashon gets its butcher shop because, like you wrote, it really will make a difference to a lot of people. Again, thank you for writing about this fairly and thoughtfully. By the way, I have a bumper crop of beets this year and am making your recipe with the horseradish and dill vinaigrette. Oh man, it looks and smells amazing…can’t wait to dig in!

  8. Elena

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am a huge believer in understanding the entire process of where your meat comes from. Butchering is a great art and I’ll be happily supporting their venture, and passing it along to others.

  9. Tina

    Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing this awareness of what actually happens in a humane and grateful way for those of us that cherish the animals that give their lives to feed us. This is the only way I buy meat. Going to the grocery store only feeds the toxic operations that are inhumane and downright cruel. We all should support this kickstarter and go back to the age of awareness of what good food is and how it is properly prepared, as that is what truly will nourish our bodies.

      1. Jan

        soldiers ‘give their lives’ to insure our freedom–by being killed, not by committing suicide. This is only to clarify the semantics, not to take sides.

      2. tea

        don’t be so sure their lives are not given willingly. this whole globe is one giant, symbiotic ecosystem. have you ever seen a gazelle taken down by a lion? there is a struggle for sure, but there is also an observable moment when the gazelle surrenders to death and gives up trying to escape.

        predators actually benefit the herds they harvest from by preventing overpopulation and starvation. if you think about the flow of life force, the gazelle’s energy is literally transformed into a lion. that sounds like a pretty mutually honoring process to me.

        1. Kimberly

          I think it is pretty easy to say that this process is ‘mutually honoring’ when you are at the top of the food chain.

  10. Kate

    This is outstanding! I just shared it all over because I am *SO* hoping that it gets funded. And I love what you have to say about a good death. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Sara

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I try to only buy humanely raised meat…usually straight from the farm. Lopez Island Farms delivers to Tacoma and we bought a half a cow to share with my parents and my sister this year for the first time from Flying Dog Farms.

  12. Samantha

    I have never really thought about it before. I guess I have been ignorant. Thank you for showing/sharing this side with us! This post was very well done!

  13. Kristen

    I started watching Brandon’s videos late one evening and was so enthralled I had to watch them all and stayed up way too late. I love what his family is doing and so hope that this project is funded.
    Great post!

  14. Melissa Carr

    Thank you for this post! It is so true that we should be connected to our farmers! We make a trip once a week to Skagit River Ranch country store where we buy Organic Pork & Beef. At 7.50/lb on avg., it has become a special treat for our family. So, this past 4th of July, when we have our big camping get together with a couple other families, we bought a live pig. It was not from the Skagit River Ranch as they do not sell live pigs, it was from a farm in Sequim, WA. This pig was grass fed and an occasional Organic Grain. We picked it up ourselves, which was an all day event. It stayed here on our farm in a VERY grassy enclosed space. I fed it warm slop each morning made from Organic Grains/Seeds/fruits/veggies for 3 days. Then when the 4th came, the pig was killed and butchered right away. When I heard the shot, I did twinge a little, and tears came to my eyes, as I am inherently an animal lover. I grew up with animals all of my life, but the killing and butchering ourselves cost $1.50/lb for fresh ORGANIC grass fed pig. Now our freezer is full for a steal really, and I know it spent its last days, and its life, enjoying the grass, rooting around as pigs do! I know that each animal DOES give its life, as that is all a part of the big circle. I also know that it provides nourishing amino acids & proteins NOT found in plants or nuts, that in turn nourish our own brain!
    Thank you for the post! It is a lost art that I find most refreching to be revived here with Brandon & Laura!

  15. Sarah Boyd

    Beautiful pictures. Beautiful words. I always love reading these posts. You reveal a way of life to me that is clean, simple, full of life, and gorgeous. As my husband and I prepare for our first child, I have been thinking a lot about where we will plant and grow our family…many of my thoughts rest on glimpses into your own family. Not to copy everything I see and read but to copy the beauty of simplicity, the love, and the natural way of life expressed through your recipes. Living in the city, I often long for a place like Vashon Island with my own garden, beautiful scenery, and a friend who is a butcher. Thank you for this blog, for these posts. I am loving the new direction you’re taking it all in.

  16. Bellingham Barb

    This is what is needed in the world. People do need to see where their meat comes from, and they need to see that not all meat has to be handled in industrial ways. I feel blessed to have grown up on a small farm. We raised a cow every year, and the butcher came to take it away in his truck and butcher it. I knew where my meat came from–from a cow with big eyes, one that I had fed every day, and tried to avoid getting stepped on by–from the neighbor’s lambs and pigs. Later, as a 10-year vegetarian, I was reacquainted with the process when I dated a man who had been raised in a trapper family, and who very honorably hunted deer and elk. He took only the lethal shot–an instant death–and we handled the meat ourselves. Being involved int he life and death of the animals is essential to keeping our humanity. And, there is nothing better to cure a vegetarian of that proclivity than the smell of well-hung elk backstrap sizzling in the pan. Sigh.

    1. L.

      What exactly does the gazelle get out of the deal that makes it mutually honoring? There are certain innate biological drives, chief among these is self preservation.

      The simple fact is you want to eat meat because it tastes good to you. You’re not trying to save the ecosystem.

  17. elizabeth

    You are such a thoughtful, meditative, intelligent writer and cook — someone for whom food is first and foremost a source of connection — to friends, family, farmers, to other cooks and food producers. I am not surprised, mindful as you are of the myriad connections, that you have come to the point in your journey of caring where your meat comes from. I was surprised (and frustrated!) some years ago when you were defending factory farmed pork. I didn’t stop reading — your writing has always touched me — but it was a source of “disconnect” with your blog for a while.

  18. Emily Wiggins

    My husband took one of Brandon’s butchering classes on Vashon and it was a life-changing experience. He and his family are doing amazing work to respect and honor the animals that feed us and a way of life that has been under appreciated for too much of our lives. I love seeing this featured in your post and hopefully this will help them get the backing they need!

  19. Laura

    What a lovely post! My husband and I eat meat raised and killed in the same way — we have actually driven to the farm and seen the herds of bison from our bison producer. We don’t eat meat often but when we do it’s always from this particular producer and that’s something I’m really proud of. I’m also a graduate of Colorado State University and know the work of Temple Grandin, which has helped me distance myself from factory farmed and slaughtered meat. Thanks for sharing!