Making the Cut

Peter Sanagan offers insight into how to pick the best cuts of meat


Q&A with Peter Sanagan from Sanagan’s Meat Locker

For the last 10 years, Peter Sanagan has built a solid team and thriving business for ethically sourced, well-butchered cuts of meat. With two locations in Toronto, Sanagan’s Meat Locker serves as a neighbourhood butcher shop, a hot counter providing some of the city’s tastiest sandwiches and a fine-food shop for speciality ingredients.

What do you look for in a quality beef, lamb or pork product? 

For grain finished beef, I’m looking for a well-marbled loin and firm structure to the muscle. For grass-fed beef I’m not looking for that marbling, but I’m still looking for the tight muscle structure. For lamb I look for rosy, dry muscle and firm fat. And for pork I’m looking for a tight muscle grain, with as much marbling as possible. Generally speaking, the pork that’s available on the market isn’t as fatty as I like it to be, which is why I work with farmers who focus on the fat content.

Do you have a few favourite farmers you like to work with? 

I do. I have been lucky enough over the last 10 years to curate a solid list of farmers who raise their animals right, with a focus on healthy, strong animals that taste good on the plate. I never buy meat through a sales company — I want to be able to talk to my farmers and discuss their needs as well as my customer’s needs.

What does ethical meat mean to you?

Ethical meat to me means the farmer has taken time to care for the animals in a way that goes over and above the conventional, base needs of the animal. The biggest thing for me is the animals are raised in a social environment, with plenty of room to move and live. I believe the comfort of an animal is paramount for it to live a decent life. Our role as consumers of meat is to make sure the animal has had as nice a life as we can afford it before it gives its life for us. At the end of the day, we only raise these animals for that reason. If we are to do that, then it’s important we respect the animal by ensuring it has a good life, with access to clean living spaces, fresh air and nutritious food.

Being located in Toronto, do you think there’s any kind of disconnect between consumers who have an opinion on ethical meat but have never been to a farm? 

There is a disconnect. Sometimes I feel consumers put animal husbandry into two buckets. The first is factory farming, where abuse of animals is rampant and the quality of the meat is poor. And in the second bucket are hobby farmers, who raise a few chickens and 20 steers. The reality is there’s a huge spectrum in the middle. For farmers to push the envelope and continue raising animals that are healthy and well taken care of, they need to treat farming like the business it is. They need to make money to survive. In order to make money, there’s a scale involved with raising animals for meat production. If the scale isn’t there, the meat becomes very expensive and prohibitive for many consumers to purchase it. If that happens, then “good, ethically raised” meat is only affordable for the upper class of society. All of that is just backwards. We need to make sure we continue raising animals with health and sustainability in mind, and keeping it as approachable and affordable as possible.

Is ethical meat the future of meat? Where do you see this trend going? 

Ethical farming is necessary to give people an option. Twenty years from now, there will be two types of meat purchasing. One will be through discount grocers, who don’t care where the product is from as long as it is extremely low priced. The second will be through shops like mine, where consumers not only have access to great, ethically raised meat, but also have a service experience that makes them feel like part of the community. I already see the split now, whether it’s via a grocery store mail-out that advertises chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, or a company like Amazon slashing prices to edge out the competition. My customers, while budget conscious, understand that for a business like ours to survive, and for the meat we sell to continue to have high quality standards, we need to charge a fair price. It’s fair so my employees can have health benefits and living wages; it’s fair for the farmers who work tirelessly to raise good animals; and, most importantly, it’s fair to the animals themselves.

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