This year StarChefs is hosting its 14th annual International Chefs Congress​, an industry-only symposium featuring the world’s topnotch culinary talent. The theme is “New Foundations: Flavor, Technique, Business.” The Congress will bring together over 150 chefs and restaurant professionals for two days of business panels, demonstrations, hands-on workshops, pop-ups and more to talk all about innovative foundations of leading kitchens and the challenges that they face today.

The Meat HookSTARCHEFS INC.
The Meat HookSTARCHEFS INC.

Given the trending communication around sustainability and meat consumption today, the demonstration and talk by Brooklyn butchers Ben Turley and Brent Young is particularly significant.

“During the last several years we have seen a major shift in the way leading chefs are cooking and, consequently, the way Americans eat when they eat out,” explains CEO of StarChefs, Antoinette Bruno. “We’ve shifted from meat-centric to vegetable-driven cooking. We are still eating meat, but the way chefs are sourcing meat has changed, influenced, for example, by progressive, sustainably minded, new wave butchers, such as the pioneers at Meat Hook, Ben Turley, and Brent Young.”

“We’ve begun to see the rise of dual-purpose agricultural (i.e. cows that produce milk for up to 14 years and then are used for their meat). Typically, we eat meat from cows that are two years old, max, and these cows are completely separated from the dairy system,” says Bruno.

Butcher's cutsSTARCHEFS INC.
Butcher’s cutsSTARCHEFS INC.

On the Congress Main Stage, these butchers will be butchering and serving vintage beef from a 12-year-old bull. They’ll be talking about dairy cow⁠—the sourcing, flavor, and sustainability of this bovine and agricultural product.

Congress attendees will be able to try this dairy cow meat, which isn’t typical since access to older animals is tough. This demonstration is set to be an interesting opportunity to discuss how food systems have evolved, differences in taste and quality of meat over the years, climate change and more.

Meat Hook butchersSTARCHEFS INC.
Meat Hook butchersSTARCHEFS INC.

We chatted with Ben Turley and Brent Young of The Meat Hook in Brooklyn on sustainability, the feature of meat consumption, environmental impacts of raising meat, practical advice on buying your meat from a butcher and other poignant topics. Here’s what they had to say.

For someone who has never considered the idea of sustainability when it comes to their meat consumption, what does it all boil down to?

Young: Not all meat is created equal and industrial agriculture is killing our planet. We don’t want people to have to give up eating meat, but the meat you consume should come from a real farm that practices rotational grazing practices. Regenerative Agriculture can save the planet.

Turley: There’s sustainability in several ways that are important here. There’s animal welfare and the sustainability of a system that, by design, breeds infections. There’s the soil sustainability of over-working the land as well. Not to mention there’s sustainability pertaining to your personal health. So as a meat-eater, you should principally be aware that your actions and how you vote with your dollar has a direct effect on how this industry will evolve – or not evolve.

Where do you see the future of meat consumption heading and why is it crucial to implement changes now?

Young: We’ve all heard frightening statistics around the environmental impacts of raising meat, but not all meat is created equal. Industrial agriculture is what’s destroying our planet. Pastured based animal agriculture can save it. People need to eat less meat and they need to eat higher quality meat that comes from real farms.

Turley: We see the future of meat consumption being a cultural dialogue of our responsibilities to each other. We love meat! And that’s okay! But do we need to be eating so much of it? We’re beyond the idea of meat on the table symbolizing financial stability like it was in the 1950’s. We need to start thinking about how much we eat, and when we eat it, where it’s coming from. Our consumption of meat has to go down quickly. It’s important to do this now because, honestly, it’s already past the time to do it.

What are a few key points a consumer should be aware of when purchasing their meat? Should they be going to a butcher for their meat over prepackaged meat at a grocery store? Why?

Young: Shop at your local butcher shop and ASK QUESTIONS. The staff should be able to tell you where everything comes from and the animal husbandry standards. If they can’t, go find another shop!

Turley: Where was it raised? What was its diet? What land management does the farm use? There’s a lot of language out there now for butchers and purveyors to use to communicate the practices of their farms. Ask for that information, then do your research to know what it all means. If you’re asking for it, any business that takes its customers seriously will start looking at what they can do to provide you with what you want.

What questions should you ask your butcher before purchasing your meat as a sustainably-conscious consumer?

Young: Where did this come from? What can you tell me about the farms’ practices around grazing? What’s the best deal in the case? Talk about cooking and what works well for the business and for you! Beef shanks and other braises are an amazing value with a ton of flavor, not everything has to be a Ribeye steak, there’s a world of cooking options out there! Ask questions and try new things.

What inspired this conversation at the Starchefs International Chefs Congress?

Young: It’s a conversation we’ve been having for ten years and we’re so excited to be sharing it with a larger audience! Having a captive audience is amazing (cue maniacal laughter). We’re having a very dynamic and in-depth conversation about climate change, less about meat itself. Once you can taste the difference, the pastured based products sell themselves.

Turley: Well, getting access to older animals isn’t very common, but it’s something we do whenever we can. Our calendar worked out that we could get one this week and it’s something that tastes, unlike any other beef most people will have ever tried. Before the 1940’s, all meat was about 4 or 5 years old when it was consumed. This is really a conversation we can have about how our food systems have changed, and what it might take to get back to where we were before industrial meat consolidated the market and stripped customers of quality in an effort to get a better margin.

Featured Image: thewellingtonagency

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