It’s time to make some room in the Guiness Book of Oxymorons. Alongside classics such as jumbo shrimp and military intelligence, we now have one for the 21st century: vegan butcher.
Last week, several leading food outlets reported that a brother-sister team in Minneapolis was about to open “the world’s first meatless butcher shop.” A tiny amount of research would have revealed that the concept is far from new. Monk’s Meats, in Brooklyn, was established in 2010 and distributes to farmers’ markets and retail partners around the city. In Toronto’s Little Italy, Michael Abramson sells meatless delicacies at YamChops. A Louisville operation called Morels functions as a virtual meatless butcher, and their products appear in outlets around town.
Still, the Minneapolis project is unique in at least one respect. Aubry and Kale Walch raised $50,000 on Kickstarter to fund their brick and mortar store, which grew from a stand at the local farmers’ market. The pair is presently trying to raise another $10K to enable them to ship nationwide.
What does a meatless butcher sell? The Walch siblings create a full line of ribs, bologna, pepperoni, jerky, and Italian sausage, along with cheeses and marinades. One popular item in vegan butcher shops is seitan, sometimes referred to as “Buddha’s food”—a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, which has a chewy texture resembling the real thing. Regardless of what you choose, the technology of meat alternatives has become so sophisticated in the past few decades that some of them might fool Anthony Bourdain.
All of which brings us to the cynic’s position on meat substitutes: If it tastes so similar to the real thing, why not just eat the real thing? There are obviously many reasons to opt for the vegan lifestyle, from health to spirituality and numerous points in between. One of the first things students learn in Zen meditation is that it’s impossible to eliminate cravings. You can change your response to them, but temptation is eternal. If you believe that fake meat is better than no meat at all, then indulgence in the realm of imagination is hardly a sin.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com