A few years ago, the idea of a vegetarian butcher – a shop selling sausages, bacon, steak and chorizo that has never been near an animal; all hung on hooks and carved on a butcher’s block – would have been derided … by meat-eaters, at least. Yet the concept, which began with a single shop, is going international, and the scoffers are increasingly turning to meat free scoffing.
The world’s first meat free butcher – The Vegetarian Butcher (De Vegetarische Slager) – opened in The Hague in October 2010, as Meat Free Monday reported. Owner Jaap Korteweg’s business has been riding the crest of a wave ever since. As well as his flagship store in the Netherlands, his products – made from protein-rich seeds of the lupin, which he farms – are now sold in 3,000 outlets in 13 countries worldwide.
“Our dream was a store dedicated to meat substitutes in the same way a butcher is dedicated to meat,” said Korteweg at the time. It is a dream that is becoming more expansive by the month – and a concept that is expanding around the world.
A vegan butcher shop has just opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Set up by brother and sister team Aubry and Kale Walch, The Herbivorous Butcher is the first of its kind to use only plant-based food. (Those who objected to the name were told: “We’ll stop calling ourselves vegan butchers when they stop calling it humane slaughter.”) Its biggest sellers include Korean Ribs, Smoky House BBQ Ribs and Porterhouse Steak.
Things have been “crazy busy” since the shop opened, a spokesperson for The Herbivorous Butcher told MFM, explaining that an increased knowledge about food – where it comes from, its impact on the body – was driving people to seek out healthier alternatives. “Films like Cowspiracy are bringing to light the devastating effects of animal agriculture on the environment, and it’s moving people to make a change toward a plant-based lifestyle because they want to make a difference”.
It’s a trend they believe will “absolutely continue” as people keep learning more about the health benefits of meat free and plant-based eating. With the formation in the US of the Plant Based Food Association, which lobbies on behalf of companies such as theirs, “the movement can only get bigger and bigger”, they added. The goal is to expand across the US, hopefully sooner rather than later.
As for whether such shops preach only to the converted, The Herbivorous Butcher says: “We actually have more omnivore customers than vegan and vegetarian customers! Our goal is to make the transition easier for people and show them they can still enjoy the same flavours and textures they’re used to without contributing to animal cruelty, health problems or environmental damage. And we’re happy to welcome people who are reducetarians, vegan before 6, those that participate in Meat Free Monday …”
Evelien van de Glind of The Vegetarian Butcher puts its popularity down to the fact that its plant-based replica meat is “indistinguishable from the real deal … with the same bite, look, taste, feel and nutritional value” – products such as vegan chicken chunks, vegan bacon and vegetarian hamburgers and meatballs.
“We could feed 4 billion more people with existing cropland if we just used the crops for first-hand human consumption, rather than making animal feed or biofuels from it,” she told MFM. “We shortened the food chain, released the animals from it and make vegan meat directly from plant proteins. Same input, same output, just without animals involved.”
This summer a Vegetarian Butcher shop will open in Berlin and the company is in talks with American investors to upscale the operation there as soon as possible – and perhaps bring a shop to these shores. As Van de Glind says: “It’s unbelievable that the UK, the cradle of vegetarianism, still has just one restaurant serving our products: The Hyde Park Book Club, in Leeds. We hope to find a keen entrepreneur willing to bring our products to the whole of the UK.”