Victoria’s new meatless butcher aims to draw in curious carnivores

The Very Good Butchers shop set to open in Hudson Market Saturday might sound like a misnomer because, well, they don’t sell meat.

“It’s plant-based meats,” said chef and co-owner James Davison, as he prepared barbecue pulled-jackfruit tacos. “We like the fact there’s discussion around the name. We want to attract the omnivores who might be curious.”

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The vegan butchery is the first of its kind to open in B.C. and the second in Canada. The first, YamChops, opened in Toronto in 2014 and won a $250,000 investment on the television show Dragon’s Den.

The Very Good Butchers features a meat counter with a ham-like ‘roast beast,’ gluten-free meatballs, a ‘very British banger’ leek, apple-and-herb sausage and other coldcuts. There is also a selection of dairy-free cheeses. Lunch menu items include plant-based burgers, reuben sandwiches, a shredded barbecue jackfruit and gluten-free waffle and loaded nachos.

“It’s all labour-intensive stuff,” said Davison, who uses organic products as much as possible.

Vegan butchers are popping up around the world with plenty of buzz, like the Vegetarian Butcher in the Netherlands run by a ninth-generation farmer who started developing meat substitutes after the swine flu and mad-cow epidemics of the early 2000s and others across the U.S. and in Mexico. Time Money magazine included ‘vegan butcher’ as one of its most innovative jobs of 2017.

“It’s not just the hippies saying we need to consume less meat, it’s everyone,” Davison said, referring to the United Nations urging a reduction in meat consumption as the industry represents 24 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions as well as species loss and increased cancer risk.

While meat substitutes are not new, the variety and quality of the products has expanded. Research firm Markets and Markets estimates the meat-substitute industry will grow to $5.2 billion US by 2022. And Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods said this week it acquired a U.S. plant-based meat product company for $140 million.

Davison said the growing interest in meat-alternatives also has to do with more sophisticated and flavourful products than the plain tofu and tempeh many think of.

“We use a lot of seitan [wheat gluten], but also vegetables and spices to get the flavour,” said Davison, a classically-trained French chef from London. These include paprika to flavour ‘pepperoni’ and beetroot for the colour of ‘roast beef’ and ‘pastrami.’

Davison got his start in vegetarian cooking at the Vancouver restaurant Heirloom, where he met his partner, Tania Friesen. The couple travelled and settled on Denman Island after having a child in 2014. They decided to try their first plant-based meat creations at the Saturday farmer’s market. He said when they would sell out in the first hour they knew they were on to something.

The pair partnered with a Friesen’s brother-in-law, Mitchell Scott, a marketing and business professional in Victoria, to expand. They hosted a pop-up shop at the Hudson Market to test their appeal in December.

The growing interest in vegan food in Victoria doesn’t surprise Jordan Reichert, who runs the Vancouver Island Vegan Association with his partner, Corie Kielbiski.

“We’ve had 300 people show up to our events and dinners,” Reichert said. “People are looking for options. The reality is, for a lot of people, the hardest part of making a transition to a plant-based diet is withdrawals from comfort food.”

Reichert noted there are several new vegan and vegan-friendly food businesses in the city, including Bliss Cafe, Rawthentic Eatery and a new restaurant set to open this spring called Vegan Hippie-Chick Cafe.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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