The Herbivorous Butcher: Saving the World with Vegan Meat?

Interview with an Herbivorous Butcher: Saving the World with Vegan Meat

In recent years, plant-based diets have become more and more mainstream; today, you’ll find a plethora of meatless fast food, meatless meal recipes, Meatless Monday menus, and even… meatless meat? Thanks to the brother-sister team behind the Herbivorous Butcher, meatless meat became a reality for many in Minneapolis in 2012, when Kale and Aubry Walch first began selling their products at local farmers markets. On January 23 2016, their venture gained a storefront and a quick cult following, with lines out the door and around the block on opening weekend.

But how did they come up with the genius and slightly unorthodox idea?

The venture began when, after Aubry had been a strict vegan for 18 years, brother Kale followed suit. “After Kale went vegan, we both started creating different kinds of vegan meats at home for us and our friends, and soon after the idea of opening our own vegan butcher shop felt like a natural progression with where we wanted to go with our lives,” says Aubry.

But What Exactly Does the Herbivorous Butcher Sell?

When Aubry and Kale first began creating vegan meat recipes, they had a very specific goal in mind. The siblings grew up on Guam, where meat and seafood are commonly the centerpiece of daily meals, and different spices and flavors were always on the table. Aubry had long highlighted the importance of these traditional flavors and textures in her own recipes, and when Kale followed suit, they suddenly had the ideal combination of palates: Aubry’s long-time vegan mindset, guaranteeing that recipes would be rich in protein and essential vitamins and minerals, and Kale’s more recent omnivorous diet, ensuring that the products they created were appealing to both omnivores and strict vegans, something that they pride themselves on.

The combination is what gave way to the dozens of vegan meats and cheeses on offer in the shop, including pepperoni, meatballs, bacon, corned beef, camembert, pepper jack, and herb smoked cheddar, each of which is made daily.

“We started The Herbivorous Butcher to bring you small-batch, locally-sourced, all-natural meat alternatives that are always fresh, flavorful, and protein-rich so you never feel like you’re sacrificing anything for healthy and ethical eating,” they write on their website of their selection.

“Korean ribs have been selling like crazy,” Aubry says. “Nearly everyone has been ordering them. James Norton at The Heavy Table had some good things to say about them so we suspect that’s been helping to push people to them.”

In addition to vegan meats and cheeses, their selection also includes other vegan products, ranging from sauces to chocolates to kimchi. “We even have vegan dog treats,” Aubry says.

The Vegan Butchery Philosophy

While the offerings might be unconventional, the butcher shop itself wears a familiar face. “From the beginning, we definitely wanted it to feel like an old timey butcher shop,” says Aubry. “Deli cases, take-a-number, even white aprons and paper hats for our front of house staff. The whole idea is to make it feel familiar for omnivores who are looking for an alternative, and we figured the best way to do that was to replicate an experience they’re used to having.”

And they also want to make sure that the ingredients are ones that people are used to eating.

“All the ingredients in our products are ones that you can easily pronounce, and can be purchased at your local co-op,” says Aubry. “We’ve worked very hard to make our recipes as simple as possible.” There is also a great deal of transparency, including nutrition information for every product, available in a binder at the shop and online.

And while organic is cost prohibitive for them right now, it’s definitely something that they’re keeping an eye on to round out their eco-conscious mindset.

“The need for meat alternatives has never been greater,” they explain on their site. “Global demand for meat has tripled in the last 40 years, causing dramatic and unsustainable increases in greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water pollution, intensifying pressures on land, water, fertilizer, feed, and fuel. A modest reduction in the consumption of animal products would not only spare billions of animals from inhumane treatment every year, but would have a huge environmental impact at a time when the world urgently needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophic climate change.”

While most people are responding positively to the siblings’ endeavor, some have pinpointed the oxymoron behind their title and their objective as a fault in their business, something that Aubry takes with a smile and a grain of salt.

“Continuing the current trend of animal agriculture to feed the population while destroying the world is most definitely an oxymoronic endeavor,” says Aubry. “If people get tripped up on our use of language, that’s fine by us, because after one taste of our products most people are hooked.”

For the moment, you’ll need to visit their storefront in Minneapolis to try the full range of vegan meats and cheeses on offer, but a few samplers are available via their online shop, with more to follow.

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Images care of Mike Ross

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco