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An “Ethical” Toronto Butcher Throwing Away Meat?

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw these pictures of pig’s heads and other scrap meat in big dustbins outside Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Toronto. The dustbins carry the logo of Rothsay Recycling who turn leftover meat into anything from pet food to protein meal.

Sanagan’s is one of the new breed of “ethical” and “sustainable” butchers who only sell locally sourced meat from small farms where animals are raised the old-fashioned way. “Old fashioned” is a bit of a red thread here because also website design and shop interior try to create an old-time look. All this sounds very hipster to me, and even the local press calls the owner – without any apparent irony – a hipster butcher.

Now it is one of the basic laws of butchery that anything but the squeal can be used from a pig. Yes, and even the head. So why are Sanagan’s throwing away all this meat? I dearly hope there is a rational explanation for this, but as much as I thought about it I could not come up with any.

If this really is what it looks like, it perfectly exemplifies what is inherently wrong with today’s hipster culture: a kind of cherry picking that focuses on the choice cuts and glorifies it with ethics and a “back to the roots” aura but ignores the less attractive aspects. The “My favorite animal is steak” quote from the Sanagan’s website is right along that line. A pig does not consist only of bacon and pork chops, it also has kidneys, lungs, feet, a tail and a head. And all of these lesser cuts can be put to good culinary use by a skilled butcher or charcutier.

The company website also introduces Sanagan’s staff. Much to my surprise they actually do have a charcutier. Now call me old fashioned, but isn’t it the bloody job of a charcutier to take care that as little as possible needs to be thrown away? But instead they buy all kinds of sausage, charcuterie and salumi from external suppliers.

I am sure the butcher who delivers “German Wursts” to Sanagan’s can tell them how to use a pig’s head and just about any scrap meat properly. The Italian salumi suppliers need jowls for making delicious guanciale and mortadella. But at Sanagans’s they apparently prefer to just throw these lesser cuts away; and then they buy back products made with such cheap cuts to sell them in their shop. What a sad irony.

But there is is not only the ethical aspect of an “ethical” butcher throwing away perfectly good meat (or if the meat in those bins had already gone bad, letting so much meat go bad in the first place). There is also a financial one. If they were able to use the scrap parts properly, they would also be able to sell their other meat for less because more own sausage means more revenue per hog.

I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that in Canada anyone without proper qualification can work as a butcher. Here in Germany a long training process with official certification is required, if you want to open your own butcher shop. Granted, this does not automatically make all your products fantastic. But at the very least you learn how you can use anything but the squeal from a pig.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • My Annoying Opinions 29th May 2015, 6:22 am

    You may be a little off the mark here. There is nothing more gastronomically hipster in North America than “nose to tail” cooking, especially with pigs. The fact that this butcher—for whatever reason—can’t find a use for pig’s heads doesn’t say anything about hipster food culture in general.

    • oliver 29th May 2015, 6:30 am

      Maybe I am seeing this a bit too much from a European perspective where “nose to tail” is deeply rooted in tradition. Germans love their head cheese, French indulge in pig’s trotters and andouillettes made with intestine, and Italians eat trippa at the trattoria. So in our neck of the woods this is nothing hipster at all.

      • My Annoying Opinions 30th May 2015, 5:59 am

        And you’ll see head cheese on every charcuterie plate in every trendy New American restaurant. And you can’t be a trendy New American restaurant if you don’t have a charcuterie plate.

        And off the hipster trail there’s a long Southern tradition of pig’s feet and a long Hispanic tradition of eating tripe. Stinky sausage not so much.

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