2 minutes with Ash McBean
Occupation: Apprentice Butcher
Business: Gary’s Quality Meats
You come from a long line of butchers? You are the fifth generation, is that right?
Yes, my grandfather still works at the shop and he turns 80 this year.
It’s admirable you’re continuing on with the tradition, I feel like the breed of people that have one trade, one profession that they master, is dying out.
It’s crazy to think Dad, and my grandfather Ken have done the one thing for their whole life, but the more time you actually spend in the butcher, the more time you spend actually doing it with them, it’s weird, you grow to love it. And it’s not just the butchery, it’s your whole surrounding.
We’ve been in the Prahran Market for 32 years I think, it’s not just the customers over the counter, it’s the other food traders in the market, it’s everything. That sense of community is something that gets overlooked but is really important. It started with supermarkets. Sure, it’s great that you can get everything in the one place, but there’s not a great deal of communication there, then the self-checkouts came in. It’s ok if you’re in that sort of a mood and you don’t want to talk to anyone, but those encounters are what I look forward to every day.
You would probably notice it more than anyone, do you think people are becoming more ethical about the types of meat they eat?
I suppose dad actually made that change, about 10, 15 years ago. We realised the importance of eating humanely treated animals. It’s something very, very important to me too. You know, when I was growing up as a little girl, before becoming a butcher, I would’ve loved to have worked with animals. Still kind of in the same department, a little bit different.
At the shop, we only get in free-range, grass-fed product that’s been humanely treated. In America and some parts of Australia, they like to feed the cows on grain, which is very very bad for the cow, they have a hard time digesting it, which is why we choose grass-fed. They are happier cows they live for longer, it’s a better life for them.
Whats the meat industry like here, generally speaking?
I think it’s starting to take a bit of a turn. There’s still, I mean, you still walk into Coles or Safeway and there’s ham for $7 a kilo, and you wonder, how can it be that much when ours is like $40 a kilo? It still is pretty bad, there are still a lot of feed plots with cows and pigs where the animals get penned up in front of a trough and just eat and eat and eat and eat. They’re not free to roam or anything and they put on 500-600 kilos in the space of 12 months. Which is really not good for the animal, and it’s not good for the consumer. If the animals are grass fed they’ll build up a lot of omega 3 fats, but grain-fed meat is quite bad for you.
I guess if people are eating better quality meat, they don’t need to eat as much of it?
That’s exactly right, It’s quality, not quantity. You eat one or two red meat portions a week and you’re fine. It may seem like organic meat is unaffordable, but if you cut down your portions, it can be really similar.
What can you see for the future of the business?
I think we’re on a pretty good path, we try not to do too much wrong so just continuing on with what we’re doing. I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest, I’m still hoping dad sticks around for another 20-30 years!
And what are some of your favourite types of meat to cook?
I love it all. But I would say, a slow roast pork shoulder or beef chuck steak. For a nice quick and easy dinner, you can’t beat a steak though.
You can follow Ash and her pics of meat on Instagram @meat_ash
Interview by Ella Mittas. Ella is a Melbourne-based chef who runs regular Greek food pop-ups @ela_melbourne