We interviewed Mario Fiorucci, co-founder of The Healthy Butcher in Toronto. We found out why he believes buying organic meat and produce is so important, which kitchen tool is essential to every home, and why soil is the secret to growing and sourcing really good food.
We love your mission statement “To ensure your food is produced the way nature intended”! What does that mean to you?
It’s a loaded statement. Everything starts with the soil. I once read that the top 6 inches of soil supports all life on earth. So when we’re sourcing food, we need to first ensure that the soil has been left in the same or better state then it was before. When it comes to animals raised for meat, we consider how the animal was treated and what the animal was fed. For example, the digestive system of cows (ruminants) are designed to eat grass, yet in North America 99% of beef sold is from cows that were fed grains and corn. Not only is the growing and distribution of grains and corn for feed extremely inefficient for the environment, but it’s bad for the cows. The Healthy Butcher was also the first Ocean Wise retail partner in Ontario ensuring we only source sustainable seafood. Bottom line, we take a holistic approach to the food we source.
How important is education to your mission?
It’s essential to what we do. The fact is that our product is more expensive — and it should be more expensive because it costs more to produce better food! In order to justify the expense, we need to educate.
Why is it important to buy organically-raised meat?
Meat, or for that matter fish as well, are much higher in the food chain compared to plants. So if you’re buying a conventional apple or bunch of lettuce, for example, you’ll likely be ingesting synthetic pesticides and/or herbicides. Now take it a step further: to produce conventional meat, the animals are not only fed sprayed plants, but also given antibiotics, growth hormones, and a lot of other garbage that is fed to animals sourced from industry by-products. All of those horrible chemicals are now in that piece of meat – starting from the pesticides, herbicides and other –icides, to the antibiotics and growth hormones. If you’re going to pick one type of food you should source organically, it should be meat.
Do you have to eat meat to shop at The Healthy Butcher?
Absolutely not! We also offer a full line of organic groceries, prepared foods, and produce, So although meat is our biggest strength, we do have vegetarians shopping in the store all the time.
Where do you get the produce you sell in your shops?
During the summer and fall we deal a lot with local farmers; we have a great relationship with Pfennings Organics who also acts as a distributor for small Ontario produce farms. During the winter we buy directly at the food terminal where produce is being imported daily; there, we pick and choose every product one-by-one.
What’s better: local or organic?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Let me start by saying that easily 85% of what we sell at The Healthy Butcher and RealFoodToronto.com is locally produced, so as a grocer we are huge proponents of local. But to answer your question, I would first support an organic farm – or better put, a farm producing food in a more biodynamic way – over a local farm.
For example, let’s take strawberries – a fruit that year after year is measured to have a huge amount of residual pesticides and chemicals. Would I choose an organic strawberry from California for my family, despite there being yummy local, but conventionally produced, Ontario strawberries? Yes.
Similarly, during the majority of the year when Ontario doesn’t have green grass, would I choose a 100% Grassfed steak that we import from Firstlight Farm in New Zealand over a local conventionally raised beef steak, absolutely – I wouldn’t even hesitate.
The only way for our local farms to move in the right direction is if we all make that choice towards healthier production method – the only votes that count are with your dollars. (That’s what we’re always saying!)
What kitchen tool does every home need?
A good chef’s knife. Everyone needs a sharp, good chef’s knife. I could suggest my favourite pots and pans and other tools, but without a decent knife, you’re screwed.