Sky Full of Bacon’s The Butcher’s Karma Premieres as Part of the Good Food Festival

March 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

The Good Food Festival is being held this weekend, and, earlier last month, it hosted the premiere of The Butcher’s Karma, a film by Michael Gebert, noted local video maker for Sky Full of Bacon and the Chicago Reader’s award-winning Key Ingredient. The film was screened on February 23rd at a sold-out benefit dinner for the Good Food Festival. The Butcher’s Karma was inspired, in part, by a panel at last year’s Family Farmed Expo (now known as the Good Food Festival) featuring The Butcher and Larder’s Rob Levitt, Chef Paul Kahan, and Bartlett Durand of Black Earth Meats, who discussed their respective roles in edging our collective consciousness away from industrially-raised, processed and packed meat. I attended that panel, and recall the noticeable passion and dedication of these individuals in trying to forge a new path for meat production in the upper Midwest. Levitt, a butcher whose livelihood depends on people’s regular meat consumption, made the most surprising comment of the day when he recommended that people should “eat less meat,” noting, generally, that increased meat consumption leads to less healthy and sustainable practices. Durand emphasized the difficulty in finding forward-thinking processors and farmers who are willing to part with the old ways, citing as factors their high capital costs, and younger generations who do not want to go into the family business. Kahan warned of the perils of consumers expecting “cheap meat,” which leads to sick animals that are not ideal for consumption being slaughtered and sold inexpensively.

Moved by the lively, intellectual dialogue of this panel, in The Butcher’s Karma, Gebert probes deeper into the minds of Levitt, Kahan and Durand by soliciting their candid thoughts, sometimes personal and emotional, on meat production. The Butcher’s Karma highlights the circuitous routes that all three took before landing in sustainable, artisanal butchery. The intellectual, Levitt, who originally trained to be a musician, became captivated with the kitchen life after working odd jobs in restaurants. He landed somewhat clumsily, though as it would be, fortuitously, in the nose-to-tail world with his former Bucktown restaurant, Mado, which was known for fearlessly serving the least desirable cuts from hogs that Levitt butchered on-site. The wisened chef, Kahan, who was initially known for fine dining at Blackbird in Chicago, became as quickly known for his magic touch with pork. This mastery eventually led him to open the meat-heavy Publican in where else but Chicago’s meat-packing district, and then Publican Quality Meats, a butcher, charcuterie and sandwich shop across from the Publican. Finally, the spiritual Durand, who was a Buddhist vegetarian, realized during a retreat in India that his diet lacked the nutrients that could only be supplied by meat and fish. Upon returning to the middle U.S., he decided to focus on raising and butchering cattle in a more “holistic” fashion, if you will, utilizing some of Dr. Temple Grandin’s techniques for the humane treatment of cattle from the inception of life to their death.

The film tours the subjects’ respective facilities, and all three are as laudably transparent as they can be about their practices. In the end, we are left to ponder all that we are not told or do not see about the meat that comes in sterile, plastic-encased packages at the supermarket, a place where meat seems to consist of only loins and chops.

The Butcher’s Karma can be viewed in its entirety here:


The Good Food Festival is being held March 15-17, 2012. More information may be found here.