Laura Dalrymple says farming can teach us a lot about the connections between the food we eat, human health and the health of the natural world.
“Every time you eat something, it has an impact beyond what’s cooked on the plate, and you see that in the functioning ecosystem of a farm. It shifts your view on everything. It’s like putting on glasses,” Dalrymple, who co-owns Feather and Bone with partner Grant Hilliard, tells Broadsheet.
Visiting the couple’s butchery in Marrickville, and their new shop in Waverley, has a similarly illuminating effect.
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Since 2006, Feather and Bone has sold meat that comes exclusively from pasture-fed animals raised on regenerative farms that contribute to the health of the planet. The business has done a good job of promoting the message – it counts some of Sydney’s best restaurants among its customers, including Fred’s, Firedoor and Lankan Filling Station. (Dalrymple and Hilliard even wrote a book on being an ethical omnivore, aptly titled The Ethical Omnivore.)
“Our job is twofold. We want to represent our farmers in as compelling a way as possible because what they’re doing is amazing,” says Dalrymple. “It takes great courage to buck conventional trends when everyone around you is doing something else. We also want to empower our customers with information to help them distinguish between real, ethical farming practices, and greenwashing.”
She acknowledges that sometimes means fighting an uphill battle.
“We live in an era of soundbites. People have limited attention spans and are increasingly impatient with anything that requires commitment and time,” she says. “If people aren’t willing to do the due diligence themselves, they have to trust us. That’s why we only give substantiated information. If we tell you about the way an animal was grown, its breed or where the farm is, we provide evidence. We visit those farms all the time.”
The best way to communicate that information is in person, and Dalrymple is thrilled that the Waverley shop will help facilitate those interactions. “It’s lovely for people to have the opportunity to come in and have a conversation around where the true value in food lies, to introduce the idea of regenerative agriculture and what that means, and how to make more informed decisions and promote value systems that synchronise with the value systems in your life.”
If buying meat this way sounds prohibitively expensive, it doesn’t have to be. Dalrymple says that experimenting with different cuts, cooking from scratch and eating less meat can all help with budgeting. But she also encourages people to look at the cost beyond the dollars.
“Every time a farmer takes a shortcut – they use pesticides or growth promotants, or they breed chickens for a huge breast and frail bones because the animal won’t live long anyway – all those choices have consequences. You might get a cheaper price at the checkout, but there are environmental and health impacts,” she says.
Not that she’s interested in lecturing people. If a customer wants to pop in for a piece of steak, they can do that. At Waverley, they can also buy a sandwich, sausage roll, or a rotating range of ready-made meals prepared by in-house chef Hamish Pollitt, including lamb shank ragu, lasagne or Sri Lankan red goat curry.
But the comfortable shop is also a good environment for education. Displays hold large and varied cuts of meat – Feather and Bone is committed to whole-animal butchery – and there’s a custom-made table (with crosscuts of animal shin bones incorporated in the tabletop) where customers can sit with staff and talk about the most flavoursome secondary cuts of meat, how to buy ethically on a budget, and which recipes suit which products. A regular program of events, including tastings and guest speakers, is planned.
Ultimately the shop is about reconnecting with the food we eat. “The meat we eat comes from an animal, and while that’s something to celebrate, it’s also something to be taken seriously,” says Dalrymple. “A life was taken. It should be respected.”
Feather and Bone Providore
270 Bronte Road, Waverley
(02) 9615 4499
Tue to Fri 9am–6pm