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Talking bacon slabs, travel and blogging for ‘Original Plumbing’ with ‘Ethical Butcher’ Berlin Reed

Ask the meat man

I was inspired to write about Berlin Reed aka the Ethical Butcher because of his BCN/PDX Spring Slabs deals, but Berlin is a busy guy and I just had to take this opportunity to ask him a whole host of queries. Luckily, he was amenable to answering all my questions ranging from butchery to blogging.

Scroll down to the bottom and hit up page 2 for full information on how to order your spring slabs and descriptions of their mouthwatering flavors. Act soon because ordering ends Thursday!

qPDX: What made you decide to bring Slabs and Slices back to Portland? Where else have you brought it?

Berlin: Well, I do these bacon cures and bacon events as part of one of my projects, The Bacon Gospel. I have been doing installments of the project for over 2 years now, this is just the latest one. I did the Winter Slabs & Slices back in December and now it’s time for Spring Slabs! I am really liking the seasonal aspect of it, it sort of gives it a little more structure to BCN/PDX, the Portland leg of the project, and lets me time events through the year a little more predictably. I did Bacon Gospel events in Brooklyn, Seattle, Portland, Cincinnati in the first year, and returned to Brooklyn in February.

Has it been successful?

Incredibly. However, “successful” does not translate to profitable for me. Mostly it’s because that isn’t my goal. I have so much fun playing around with these flavors and bringing local, handmade meaty love to people who don’t necessarily prioritize local, pastured meats in their food budgets.

With both the bacon project and the Heritage Breed Supper Club, my whole animal dinner series, I am looking to connect people with their food–to get people to understand why we have to support local farms while at the same time just having a blast trying out insane flavors of what is a very common and well-loved food.

I am pushing the limits of a beloved staple, it both challenges and comforts people when they taste the bacon.

I strive to keep prices as low as possible so more people can enjoy my food, but that means that with the cost of ingredients and sheer amount of time it takes me to do everything, it all works out to be a labor of love for me as far as events and bacon go. I am fine with that. I fully recognize that in many ways, my personal politics will always keep my retail prospects fairly dim. That’s why I also teach classes, present lectures and sit on panel discussions when I travel.

I am actually writing this from a hotel room in North Carolina, where I’ve been for the last few days for a conference where I taught butchery classes with Butcher’s Guild and sat on a panel about ethical issues in the meat industry. I also round out my usually light wallet by taking DJ and GoGo dancing gigs.

Tell is about some of the flavors this spring. What’s your favorite?

That’s hard! I have a list of about 80 flavors now!

I love, love, love the floral bacons, that Blooms and Boom is just, I can’t tell you how amazingly savory all those floral flavors become. The bacon just gets this soft, round, full flavor that really goes well a main ingredient in salads, or wrapped around fruit or even seafood.

The Sweet Beets was a big hit with the bacon club a few months ago, it’s earthy and fresh tasting, like borscht bacon. My girlfriend took some to a part where they made bacon cheeseburgers and people flipped, it was also out of this world with eggs for breakfast.

The chocolate and coffee bacons are much more along the lines of traditional bacon flavor profile because they have that deep, dark flavor that people expect.

Getting booze and chiles or nuts in there just kicks it up a notch. My bacon club goes ape over any flavor with coffee or chocolate. I  really doing coffee bacons because it gives me a chance to pair up with the great roasters in PDX. This time around I’ll be using some super special coffees from Intelligentsia.

I’ve heard you’ve been in Brooklyn for a little while. Are you bringing the Ethical Butchery to NYC? How is that going?

I was in Brooklyn for almost two months. I was primarily there to work on finding a publisher for my book, taking meetings with my agent, which was a really strange experience.

While I was there, I did a leg of the Bacon Gospel there, Bacon for Brooklyn II, it was a Valentine’s Day themed bacon cure. It went really well and was tons of fun.

For me, everything started in Brooklyn, it’s where I entered the trade of butchery and where most of my best friends live, so whenever I go back, it just feels like going home.

Events go really well there, but it’s always totally crazy. Just the logistics of transportation. I once took a 7-hour trip by train, taxi and subway to a farm to schlep ducks back to Brooklyn from a farm upstate. I ride the subway all over to pick up ingredients, it’s like a nightmare reality show-and I love every second of it.

I know you’ve also been blogging for Original Plumbing. Do you expect to overlap and of your love for meat and other foods and/or butchering with your writing there? Does your work intersect with your life as a trans person?

Berlin's OP portrait. Photo by Ally Picard / Bloodhound Photography

Yeah, I have been writing for OP for sometime now. I contribute to almost every issue and have been filling a guest blogger slot for the last two months, this week will be my last post. The are bringing in 7 new bloggers, it’s a really cool way to keep the blog fresh and show all kinds of perspectives from the community.

There’s almost no overlap between my writing for OP and my food writing, other than mention of my work in the more personal writing I do for OP.

I love my work, my food writing and food politicking, but writing for OP gives me a place to let loose and write about whatever I want. Choosing dildos, changing sibling relationships, personal reflections, it gives me the space to stretch out.

Writing for OP also gives me the opportunity to be visible in the Trans community. My work has nothing to do with gender identity or sex, you know? There’s not a whole lot of time, or even an appropriate situation to discuss my status as a Transperson, unless genitals suddenly become the topic of conversation, which hasn’t happened yet.

Anyone can Google me and find both Ethical Butcher stuff and OP stuff, so there’s most assuredly an intersection. It’s all me, this is all my life and I am proud of who I am.

You write some pretty personal stuff on that very public forum. I most definitely keep at least some personal distance from my blog and other public writing (and I’m sure my exes are grateful). How you do feel about that? How about the people around you?

I do, it’s my style to write from a very personal place. I wouldn’t say I reveal all my secrets though!

Specifically with OP, a lot of my being so open come from knowing that there are young transguys reading it all over the world. I try to think about these guys who are either too young to live their lives the way they want, or too isolated to feel safe exploring what that is.

Especially as a transman of color, I just feel like it’s good to bare my soul a bit to show that they can too. I get emails from guys all over who identify with the pieces I write and that’s what it’s all about. For the most part, anything I’ve written about friends or family has been positive, so no one has ever complained.

You’re a very busy boy. How have you been able to successfully juggle all your projects? Do you still have time for fun?

It’s all fun! I have no idea how it all works out to be quite honest, just this week alone, I was in 4 different airports 6 times in 3 time zones in a period of 48 hours.

I have about one day every week or so where I freak out for a couple of hours about money or time management or have some emergency that puts me over the edge for a bit, but overall I thrive on the pressure.

I’ve always identified a lot with my namesake bear, it sort of describes my personality, but recently I have been feeling more and more like a shark. I just see myself and all my thrashing and powerful surges and unwillingness to stop even for much-needed rest- I have a goal and I if I stop moving forward, I’ll drown.

I have a film project I am working on with a super awesome Queer filmmaker and am inching closer to sealing my book deal. I am working on the final edits to the book with an editor I really dig, so wish me luck!

Lastly, just a selfish question because Portland misses you…Do you miss PDX?

I am fully in travel mode right now, so I miss things about every city I love!! I am coming back in just a few days and am stoked but already have more travel plans through the Fall.

I am putting together a few weeks of gigs down here in the south and got invited to hangout in Alaska learning about the salmon fishery this summer. I have a lot of work with the Butcher’s Guild which is based in SF, and my agent and editor are in NYC, so I need to get to both places with a bit of frequency.

On top of that, I haven’t even made my full list of events for this year, so I am still looking into other cities, too! Everything that’s happening for me pulls me away from Portland, I am really restless right now. No worries, though, I actually have some amazing plans up my sleeves just right for the Queer foodies of Portland.

I am also really, REALLY looking forward to Portland in summer. I just want to swim in rivers, drink beer and eat fried chicken on the sunny banks of the Sandy, Washougal and Deschutes.

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