Meat on wheels is a familiar sight in a city setting, but Brandon Sheard isn’t Kickstarting for a burger truck. That’s because Sheard is something of an anomaly—for the past three years, he’s lived with his wife and three young kids out on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, hosting classes in person and online for farmers on the old-school methods of humanely slaughtering animals. Now, he’s raising money for a mobile operation, one that would cater to the hundreds of small farmers that have taken root in and around Puget Sound, Washington state, and Oregon. He calls it the "meatsmithing truck," and it’s part of a vision of returning to localized "peasant" principles of meat eating.
"The agrarian renaissance is booming like crazy out here, farmers with like five acres and a farm stand," Sheard explains. "These are the people who are demanding more livestock harvesting."
Sheard’s meatsmithing truck would work like other custom slaughter and butcher operations, for which demand is high, but with a few major alterations. First, Sheard would drive his business directly onto a farmer’s plot and slaughter the animals on the spot. This, he says, is one of the humane and educational elements of his practice, and it used to be a regular aspect of animal agriculture.
"What an animal fears most, more than a knife, is being separated from their flock or herd," Sheard says. He wouldn’t be handling massive herds, either—the truck would cater to vegetable farmers who decide to raise a few livestock animals off the extra scrap. Then, he’d teach the farmer how to take the animal apart, pointing out all the juicy bits we normally no longer eat, and take the carcass back to his own butchery to make the cuts. That’s where the second educational aspect comes in: For a discount to the farmer’s processing costs, Sheard would host a class around the farmer’s pig carcass, then send the cuts back to the farmer.
The goal of Sheard’s meatsmithing Kickstarter is to raise money for a real butcher shop (and a license). Until now, he’s been using his own kitchen, which can get tiring if you constantly have to shift it back into a regular home. Three years ago, Sheard and his wife, Lauren, abandoned their academic career tracks in English literature for the island, and they’ve been sustaining themselves on meat ever since. Earlier, Sheard had taken on a job at a local farm, but when the recession hit, found himself having to take on more responsibilities—he was put through a crash course on animal agriculture, from raising animals to butchering them.
"We lost the butcher, so I had to start learning how to butcher immediately," Sheard recalls. "And then I found the best way to get money out of what we were harvesting is not to throw away the head and the liver. So I trained myself in peasant recipes because they make the most of that," he said.
Soon after, Sheard and his family started a popular video series called "The Anatomy of Thrift," in which Sheard demonstrates traditional ways to hack and cure meat. The meatsmithing truck, he says, is part of a larger mission to decentralize animal agriculture from the industrialized, monolithic status quo and return some power to the farmers.
"I want to enable farmers to feed themselves on their own land," Sheard says. "And for the parts that they don’t have the time for, they can hire us to do."