Trade Stories: Zeph, the Proletariat Butcher
In a society where many people are far removed from the processes put in to food preparation, professional butchers like Zeph have taken the age-old craft in to their own hands. The 31 year-old Portland, Oregon resident has spent the last 6 years developing and espousing an unique approach to butchery focusing on positive stewardship for both animal and environment. If you’re lucky enough to procure meat from Zeph, you can literally have a hand in the preparation yourself. Find out what else separates the Proletariat Butcher from the rest of the pack below.
What attracted you to working as a butcher?
It was a very pragmatic implementation of larger more abstract philosophical, theological and environmental convictions. I wanted to have a pursuit that integrated my life in a very full sense. I get to provide people with the highest quality meat at a very affordable price. It’s also very hands on. I need to be active in what I do and this most certainly accomplishes that desire [Laughs].
Where did you learn this trade?
I learned to butcher at Seabreeze Farm off the coast of Vashon Island. At this farm, the animals were raised, slaughtered, butchered and cured all on site. So, from the seed that grew the pasture to the sausage finally offered, we were involved. I’ve been interested in meat for 6 years, and seriously pursuing butchery for 3.
Can you describe your distinct approach to butchery?
At Proletariat, we strive to create a close looped cycle where everything from the ground in which the animals forage to the meat you eat are well taken care of through responsible stewardship. We up-cycle our edible scraps to pigs in order to create something useful, and the hides are tanned and then made available for our customers to take home. We sell animals by the quarters, and this has a few main purposes: first off, none of the animal goes to waste because you purchase the whole quarter, not just particular cuts. It also affords the best price for the consumer. You receive a Frenched rack of lamb for the same price you buy seemingly less desirable cuts like lamb shank, ground lamb or bones. We want you to see every cut as equally healthy and delicious. In short, we take meat from an abstract commodity in a typical retail setting to what it actually is: an animal, in which we strive to honor and be a good steward of.
Where do you source your animals?
The animals are sourced from local, family farms that practice good animal husbandry. We rely on our personal relationship with the farmer instead of external rules to discern whether the animals are being raised in an efficacious fashion that focuses on good pasture management. We prefer the term “pasture raised” instead of “grass fed” as the latter is not a very accurate portrayal of a farmer’s reality in animal husbandry.
What are a few things that you think people misunderstand about butchery?
There isn’t too much of a misunderstanding, rather than a total lack of understanding and awareness for the craft. In many ways, it’s easier that people don’t have many preconceived notions about butchery so we can help people understand the craft from the ground up. Still, people are always surprised that we cut by hand and use old carbon steel knives. Many of our clients are also surprised at the variety of cuts they get from us. There is more to a cow than New York steaks, rib eye, and ground beef. Also, people are always baffled by Old World preservation methods. When we salt bacon, pancetta, or hams for customers and encourage them to hang them in the pantry we receive a lot of blank stares.
What makes your company different than others?
There is little about this company that is similar to any other butcher shop. We are taking what we like about butchery and reinventing the rest. Everything is handcrafted, no accelerating the process via machinery, artificial climates, or chemicals. It’s very basic and beautiful. We harbor an intentional pre-industrial, agrarian posture toward meat consumption. Our sales structure is very different from a typical retail setting, rib eye is the same price as ground beef. We also strive to involve our clients by letting them be involved in the butchery if they would like to. We want to integrate our customers further into the experience and ingrain responsibility for good consumption.
What’s your favorite meat or meal?
My favorite hunk of meat would be the “butcher’s cuts.” I take the seemingly less desirable cuts and turn them into delicious meals. It is encouraging, as it shows us that you don’t need a NY steak to be satiated. You simply need quality meat, good cooking methods, and an open mind to provide for you and yours.