Durham’s Whole-Animal Butcher

From the beginning, it’s been a part of the Co-op’s mission to provide high-quality, nourishing food for our community, and a butcher counter which upholds whole-animal utilization is an important piece of running a robust, values-forward grocery store.

Photo by Becky Sowers

Using the whole animal responsibly fosters conscientious participation in the food system. EPIC Provisions, a favorite meat snack brand at the Co-op, demonstrates how shaping their food production around more whole-animal recipes is the best way to honor the animal, not take resources for granted, and encourage more on-pasture raising for livestock. It’s no secret that poor industry practices and misrepresentative notions have caused our meat consumption to become askew. Mark Essig, North Carolina historian, writes about the pig’s vital role in our culinary heritage and how misguided perceptions throughout history pose an enormous danger to resilient food systems for humans and livestock alike. Thankfully, farmers, butchers, chefs, and everyday eaters are working to reestablish prosperous business around meat, necessitating rigorous production standards, bolstering sales for local farms, and inspiring intentional eating habits through whole-animal butchery.

Pigs feet, a hallmark of whole-animal butchery!

Of course, whole animal butchery isn’t new. Communities worldwide have relied on animals not only for food, but clothing and other livelihood goods as well. But like most resources caught up in capitalistic systems, the meat supply has been subject to the filters of trending desirability and reduced to a limited supply of popular cuts. Whole-animal utilization combats this imbalanced standing. Instead of only selling a few cuts per animal, farmers make an effective profit when butcher shops purchase whole animals, helping create a more economical structure. A food system formed around viable products has better environmental repercussions rather than perpetuating excessive food waste.

Housemade Head Cheese & Porcetta di Testa

Using the whole animal not only reduces waste, less popular menu items such as organs, boast high nutritional value. Sustainable meat producers, like Thousand Hills, a regenerative farm dedicated to raising Lifetime Grazed 100% Grass Fed Beef, details the extensive benefits of beef liver, a superfood (you can find Thousand Hills ground beef at the Co-op!). Plus, it’s delicious. Whole-animal eating simply makes for the most flavor-packed recipes. Ask our butchers! Our housemade head cheese and Porcetta di Testa speak for themselves.

Between whole-animal butchers, meat aggregators, and state-level programming, a thriving meat industry continues to develop in NC. Values-forward companies like Firsthand Foods, where we source our animals, connect networks of local farmers with restaurants, butcher shops, and grocery stores around the state, providing greater opportunities for whole-animal sales. Shops help educate customers! The Chop Shop Butchery in Asheville takes part in fostering more transparency within the meat industry and encourages cooking with a broader range of meats. The Center for Environmental Farming Systems oversees initiatives, like NC Choices, which support whole-animal purchasing between local farmers and meat buyers, partnering with local businesses to refine training for workers on better meat consumption.

Whole lamb delivered from Firsthand Foods

These businesses and programs reflect so much of why the Co-op butcher counter has been whole-animal from the beginning. With our commitment to playing a positive role in a better food future, we designed our butcher counter to offer the best meats through sound practices. 

Todd’s Hog Breakdown

Todd walked us through a hog breakdown!

To help illustrate what whole-animal butchery looks like in action and how our values show up in every cut, our butcher staff put together a hog breakdown, complete with cooking tips. Read Todd’s Hog Breakdown HERE, get inspired, and stop by the counter any time to chat with our butchers to learn more.

Sources & More Info

NC Choices Supports Whole Animal Purchasing | Center for Environmental Farming Systems
The Whole Animal Project | Epic Provisions
Is Beef Liver Healthy? | Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed
Lesser Beasts | Mark Essig
Honoring the Whole Animal | Firsthand Foods
The Chop Shop Butchery