Part of being a whole-animal butcher, says Jake Dickson, is finding ways to use even the parts of the animal that aren’t necessarily palatable to his customers at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. “We’re able to use almost everything, but there’s not enough of a market for every part of the animal that we bring in, even after we’ve tried to change it into other things.”
So Dickson, who opened his butcher shop in the Chelsea Market a year and a half ago, is changing those things into dog food.
The new “dog-food program,” Dickson explains, “allows us to close the loop completely so we’re nearing zero waste.” The parts that he doesn’t have much use for, such as the 80 pounds of beef liver he receives each week, make ideal canine sustenance. But rather than just package and sell them as is, Dickson partnered with Stacy Alldredge, a dog trainer and canine nutritionist who, Dickson says, “is a big advocate of cooking real food for pets” instead of feeding them “all of the junk” (see: melamine) that goes into commercial pet food.
They concocted a product that’s mainly vegetable-based, and uses produce from the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, their neighbor down the hall. And yes, it’s seasonal: In addition to meat, it currently contains apples, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
Alldredge tested the food on some of her clients — or, more specifically, their dogs — and got “spectacular feedback,” Dickson says. “People would feed it to their dogs for three days, and then when they’d give them their regular food, the dogs would look at them like, ‘What the fuck is this?'”
Unlike certain people, Dickson’s not eating what he’s selling. “I did taste a small amount of it, but it’s not that delicious,” he admits. “There’s a high proportion of liver and kidney, and they’re not my favorite parts. I’m not a big sweet-potato person either.”
Dickson reports that since he introduced the dog food the week before last, sales have been good. He stresses that it’s available through orders only: Customers call in their order for the week before 8 p.m. on Friday, and then pick it up on Sunday, making it what might be New York’s first dog-food CSA.
While some people will undoubtedly sigh heavily at the idea of grass-fed, artisanal dog food, the concept, Dickson says, makes sense for whole-animal butchers and isn’t even particularly new: “I didn’t invent this concept; none of us did. [The dog food industry] has been doing it for 75 years, if not longer.” The difference is that “we’re taking it to the highest level, with 100 percent traceable meat. We should all be doing this — it’s 100 percent utilization of the animal.”
While some companies are making high-end dog food strictly from the perspective of better pet health, Dickson continues, he’s combining that impulse with better sourcing, “which is what the shop is all about. We’re creating a dog food that people could eat,” he says. “Whether you want to or not is another question.”