culture.

the rebirth of the local butcher shop

Rena Siddall

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“Did you want to ask about the vegetarians now?” was the question asked by the co-owner of The Gibsons Butcher in Gibsons, B.C. when I was interviewing her. 

As our news and media feeds become more saturated with vegan lifestyles and plant-based recipes, it may come as a surprise to learn that the local butcher shop has experienced somewhat of a revival. In fact, according to CBC, British Columbians are three times more likely to identify as vegetarians or vegans than the rest of Canada. Even fast food chains have capitalized on the rise of veganism- A&W’s Beyond Meat Burger sold out only a few weeks after adding it to their menu back in July.

Shop local. Save the planet. Eat well. #Winning

I grew up on a small hobby farm, and spent the last five years living in mostly alpine towns in Europe where the butcher shop is as essential as the doctor’s office and the local pub. Nearly everyone gets their meat from the butcher. Many grocery stores in small villages don’t even carry all types of meat because they expect that consumers will visit their butcher instead. It’s a respectable tradition. Quality aside, it’s more environmentally friendly thanks to paper packaging, comes with friendly interactions, personal recommendations and bones for the dog. Despite my respect for the art of butchery, my husband and I normally try to have a meatless day at least two times a week. I see it as being cost-effective, environmentally-friendly and even health-oriented. And we’re not alone. Canadians are seeking to lower their meat consumption. And ironically, that’s exactly why there exists a fantastic niche for the local butcher shop.

Thanks to the evolved millennial and social media, the artisan butcher has re-established itself as an essential part of smaller communities. The family-run, Nesvog Meats and Sausage Co. in Nanaimo is a perfect example- they have an impressive amount of testimonials and followers on Facebook all touting their praises. Nesvog’s pretty photos of marbled prime rib, specialty sausages and stacked sandwiches don’t hurt either.

If Canadians are trying to reduce their meat intake, it only makes sense to opt for meat from a local, reputable source. Back on the Sunshine Coast, at the Gibsons Butcher, Adam and Shannon Vanderwoerd are a husband and wife team offering up ethically, locally sourced meats free from hormones, antibiotics or steroids. Shannon pointed out that while in Canada it’s illegal to sell chicken or pork with hormones in it- so if you see hormone-free on the packaging it’s nothing more than a nice marketing tactic- at their shop, they are very particular about also sourcing meat free from antibiotics. They can guarantee you’re getting antibiotic-free meat because they know most farms they’re purchasing meat from.

After working as a butcher in a grocery store for over 20 years, Adam was finding himself discouraged by having to sell a lower-quality product in order to keep up with flyer prices. If there’s an $8.99/kg deal on chicken wings in the latest flyer, the grocer’s butcher is required to source meat to meet that bottom line. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for getting to know your local farmers and finding antibiotic-free, high quality meat for your customers. So he decided to open up his own shop.

Bringing back the lost art of butchery.   

Obviously passionate about his trade, (Adam even has his brand tattooed on his arm, as do others on staff) he and Shannon have worked hard to build a neighbourhood shop that meets their vision. True butchery is considered to be a dying art by most that work in the trade. To accurately be considered a butcher you must break down the entire animal- but of course this happens less and less in North America and most definitely not in your local grocery store. But in Adam and Shannon’s shop, they offer apprenticeships, scholarships and work programs with the local high school.  They’re, in a sense, helping to save the art.

Intent on becoming a community hub, since opening their flagship store in 2016, The Gibsons Butcher has already expanded to include an express location at the Gibsons Public Market. Adam and Shannon are so committed to their community and locally-sourced meat, they’ve become liaisons between local farmers and health authorities to provide the proper training and licensing so Sunshine Coast farmers can sell their livestock to The Gibsons Butcher. Since November 2018, they’ve started selling meat from a farm that’s walking distance from their shop. Now that’s local. 

The Gibsons Butcher also offers an array of specialty products, raw dog food and even a hip brand with swag that you can rep if you’re so inclined. Co-owner Shannon, says because they make a point of using the entire animal from snout to tail, the dog food they sell actually makes up a surprising amount of their revenue.

Conscious meat-lovers find a home in their neighbourhood butcher shop.

Of course, the fancy swag and dog food aren’t the only benefits of straying away from your local grocery store. In supporting a local business, you get the added benefits of having a knowledgeable, qualified butcher there to ask questions. You can learn more about how to properly store and prepare your meal, you can pre-order certain cuts and meats, and your food comes with much less packaging than you might find at the grocery store. Plus according to recent reports, the scientific community believes reducing meat consumption- even to dietary guidelines- could reduce food-related greenhouse gases by up to a third. Shannon says, “eat less meat. That’s okay. You don’t need to eat meat seven days a week. But if you’re only going to eat meat once a week, it should be the best quality meat you can buy.” It’s a conscious consumer’s obvious choice. That’s a lot of checks in the pro-butcher column.

And how ‘bout those vegetarians?

Shannon says one of The Gibsons Butcher’s top employees is a vegetarian, “she’s proud [to work here]… because of our ethical practices. If you’re not going to eat meat. That’s okay, because we’re going to cater to you.” The Gibsons Butcher offers plenty of vegetarian options- vegan jerky, assorted veggie burgers, and they’re currently developing a potato-based, vegan sausage packed with vegetables. Besides the meat replacement offerings, Shannon says they get vegetarian customers in simply because of their fine-quality foods they sell. You can’t find these small-batch products at a large grocery store because that grocer is required to shop within their existing supplier catalogue. Yet another way Adam and Shannon are committed to being a hub for their community.

Shannon says they get near emotional when they witness how time stops in their shop. “Adam and I were born and raised here on the Coast, and when we decided we wanted to open a butcher shop, we wanted a place where people could catch up and time stood still.” They don’t have any clocks in their shop because they want people to feel they can come in, take their time, ask questions and talk with one another. It’s evident community is as important to them as the quality of their product. 

After all that, if you’re looking for a little dinner inspo for tonight, maybe try Adam and Shannon’s favourite cut of meat: a tri-tip steak. But you won’t find it at your grocery store.

Follow The Gibsons Butcher @thegibsonsbutcher

Visit them online at www.thegibsonsbutcher.com

Rena Siddall / ohsnapcreative@gmail.com

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