I have known Sam for many years now and feel very lucky to have him as part of our community. Sam was one of the first people to introduce me to the question "where does my meat come from?" From there, I've been questioning and considering how all our food is raised, grown, treated and tampered with. Sam's shop is walking distance from our space in Kew and I like to vote with my dollar by supporting him and his high quality network of farmers and producers.
Wherever in the world you may be, voting with your dollar, shopping locally and supporting your community are important not only for your health, but also to continue to enhance ethical business and lifestyle practices. If you can't catch or grow your own food - it's critical to know where and how it's been raised. Thanks Sam!
What is an ethical butcher?
Well for me, it starts with the desire to simply be an ethical person. I thinks it so important to be mindful of the things that affect other people, other beings or the planet. Many businesses are geared with a "take, take, take" state of mind, whereas I believe it's extremely important to give back in return. Having said that, it's hard to make-good of the fact that our business exists because people want to eat meat and this is facilitated by the taking of animals lives. So I feel the least we could do is give back to charities which support and advocate animal rights. We also use hydro electricity, maintain our carbon neutrality (certified), and use paper bags from sustainably managed plantations. Not to mention we take very good care of our staff, customers and small community groups.
Why is it important that we know where our meat comes from?
It's important to know where our food comes from for so many reasons. Like, keeping the local economy strong and supporting local jobs and industry. And, if animal welfare and husbandry ethics are important to you, then shopping locally means you have the opportunity to speak with your shopkeepers about how the the produce is farmed. Let's not assume that all of the produce available to us these days was sourced locally, respectfully, or humanely either. The global market for fresh produce; fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and dairy is ever-growing. And while Australian Standards might be met in order for these products to be imported, how do you feel about the fact that the oranges you eat could very well have travelled 13,000km to get to you? Or, that your favourite bacon could have come from a Danish pig, which was raised in an environment so far from what nature intended, it's more like a scene from The Matrix than a traditional pig farm?
How do you ensure that your meat is ethically raised and fits the bill?
Well in the end, I guess a large part of this comes down to "trust". The only way I can be certain of how a farm operates, is to go to the farms, meet the farmers and see these environments for myself. For me, there's no exact science to what I consider to be ethical farming. And the very topic of "ethical meat" is a tricky one at that - with many varying opinions and points of view. I base my decisions on farmers attitudes, their commitment to their animals, the appearance of the farms and the general vibe I get from the animals as to whether they're happy (which I believe you can tell). Yes, there is free range certification and farm assurance programs which provide the framework for high welfare farming, but there is nothing like seeing the farms with your own eyes and making the decision for yourself, which is what I have done, and continue to do with all of my suppliers.
If you could pass on three tips for someone that is new to sourcing high quality meat, what would they be?
Do a little research and ask your butcher where their meat comes from. Once you have found out, do a little bit of your own research into these farmers and brands and try and get a feel for what they are doing. It's best not to assume anything when it comes to this kind of thing and a little research may answer many questions that you have. Keep in mind the term "organic" doesn't necessarily mean high welfare, nor does it mean "grass fed". If you are after high, grass fed produce, then this is exactly what you need to be asking for. Keep an eye out for terms such as "bred free range" or "outdoor bred" as neither of them are actually free range. Understand that naturally, beef and lamb eat grass, so the healthiest animals are fed on grass until the day they are processed - not just until they are placed in a grain feeding lot. Ask you butcher how long they "age" their red meat. You need four weeks age on most cuts of beef and two week age on lamb before they are at their optimal tenderness. Fresh red meat is tough! Pork also benefits from about 10 days age, whereas chicken is best when it's fresh, fresh, fresh.
Sam Canning, Cannings Butchers