Cutting Edge

AVashon Island–based butcher Lauren Garaventa wants diners to know their meat.

STORY BY JACKIE VARRIANO
PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF

Most people don’t want to know how the sausage is made, but then, Lauren Garaventa isn’t most people.

Lauren is a Vashon Island–based butcher putting the finishing touches on a restaurant called The Ruby Brink — part bar, part restaurant, and part whole-animal butcher shop. Lauren and her partners in the venture, Jake Heil and Rustle Biehn, plan to buy ethically-raised animals and goods from local farmers. It’s a culmination of years spent honing her craft as a butcher and taking it to the masses.

Ten years ago, Lauren was working as a bookkeeper for the Seattle restaurant group Chow Foods. She comes from a food-centric family and had begun experimenting with butchery and aging some charcuterie with a coworker. But Lauren was curious about an aspect of meat-eating most people find unsavory, and she found herself attending a pig slaughter class.

“Looking back on it, it was the weirdest pig slaughter class ever,” she says. “They just let us novices hack away at this poor animal. We watched this animal die, and now people who don’t know what they’re doing are just cutting it?”

It was a formative moment. Rather than turn her off to butchery, it inspired Lauren to make a career of doing things differently.

To master the process — and elevate it to a respectful, appreciative extension of the life the animal led and the humane way it died —  Lauren read everything she could about butchery. She moved to Vashon and sought work as a butcher for the island’s sustainability-focused Sea Breeze Farm, then spent a short stint at the now-closed Pioneer Square location of the farm-to-table butcher shop, Rain Shadow Meats. She and her husband, Finwé O Hagan, have also occasionally raised their own animals on the island. 

In 2013, Lauren started a supper club and catering company on the island called Meat and Noodle, serving soup made from leftover bones, skin, feet, and more, along with island-grown vegetables. Though she ended the supper club last year to concentrate on the restaurant, it was her full-fledged entry in to the business of serving food to the masses — and making sure no part of the animal went to waste.

Now, Lauren works with Vashon’s Farmstead Meatsmith — a humane, sustainable, whole-animal butcher shop and classroom — and offers butcher services to the many small farms in the area.

But there’s a twist in Lauren’s carnivorous philosophy: She’s a butcher who thinks people shouldn’t consume a lot of meat.

“Weird, I know,” she says.

Instead, Lauren says consumers should approach all meat with a sense of reverence, using every part of the animal to make sure the kill counts.

“I come from a perspective that food, especially animal products, as a commodity has major downsides. Exploitation of people, animals, and land; extreme food waste; and a false sense of convenience are what we have ended up with.”

Lauren says it’s not “realistic to have whatever you want at all times.” In her mind, beef should be seasonal because grass is seasonal.

“I would like to be a part of a real, local food system, where meat and dairy are by-products of a responsible agrarian cycle — a luxury that comes from taking care of the land. It’s super idealistic, but we have to start somewhere.”

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