The Vegetarians Who Turned Into Butchers

The system that she, Ms. Kavanaugh and many other of these butchers embrace is rooted in grassland ranching, in which grazing animals play an integral role in sustainability. They do so by providing manure for fertilizer, which encourages the growth of a diversity of grasses, and by lightly tilling the soil with their hooves, which allows rainwater to reach the roots.

The system’s advocates say it can regenerate vast swaths of grassland, which has the potential to sequester carbon rather than emitting it as factory farm operations do. (Critics of the alternative approach say that not all studies show improved carbon sequestration on grazed grassland, and that the system can’t produce enough meat to meet current demand.)

“I grew up hiking the prairies of Colorado, and I developed a really deep love for those plains,” Ms. Kavanaugh said. “It’s like people say when they talk about loving the ocean, that you can see for miles under a big blue sky. When I decided to open a butcher shop, I knew I only wanted to source 100-percent-grass-fed animals from ranches that were helping regenerate the prairies.”

Raising grazing animals on grassland, however, is significantly more expensive than raising steers on feedlots, making the meat more costly for consumers. Ms. Kavanaugh, for example, charges $21 a pound for top sirloin steak, as compared with $8.99 at a nearby King Soopers supermarket.

When Joshua Applestone, 49, opened Fleisher’s Grass Fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, N.Y., in 2004, he was a fourth-generation butcher and first-generation former vegetarian. By opening Fleisher’s — one of the first ethical butcheries in the United States — he sought to make this type of meat more available.

“When we first opened, people were surprised at the prices,” he said. “But our costs are much higher than what a giant company pays. We are paying to have control over the quality of our animals, what they are being fed, how they are being treated, transported, slaughtered and cut up. Once people understood that, the business took off.”