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Small business week: Salt & Time is keeping butchery local

In addition to the butchery and restaurant, Salt & Time is also a salumeria, meaning it specializes in salami and cured meats. (Salt & Time)

Ben Runkle went vegan when he was 18 after learning about the effects meat production posed to animals and the environment. He was into punk rock at the time, living in the Bay Area in California, surrounded by like-minded people who also abstained from eating meat.

Fast forward more than 10 years later, Runkle co-owns Salt & Time, a butchery and salumeria here in Austin, but he hasn't lost his drive to live sustainably.

"I didn't really have an understanding of food production or where food came from—learning all that information, it was a very natural reaction to want to abstain completely from consuming animal products that were part of that system," Runkle told Austonia. "When I started eating meat again, I wanted to know where it was from, how it was raised (and) how products were made."

Ben Runkle has been running Salt & Time alongside his business partner Bryan Butler since 2013. (Ben Runkle)

He moved to Austin to live closer to family and began to pursue a dream: opening a butcher shop that was comparable to the places he had worked at and loved in California. Before long, he started selling at farmers' markets and was later introduced to his business partner, Bryan Butler.

With a joint passion for working with local ranchers, Butler and Runkle hit it off. By February 2013, they had their own brick and mortar, still standing today, now offering a full-service restaurant and café to boot.

Runkle continues to source his products locally, doing his best to adhere to a "two-hour" rule of buying meat from two hours or less by car. Even though they can't always meet that criterion, Runkle says they learn about the ranchers they source from—many of which started out directly selling to Salt & Time—as his number one priority is transparency in the process.

"We look these ranchers in the eyes, talk to them about what their processes are and what their reasoning for doing it is, and frankly, they look those animals in the eyes for their whole lives," Runkle said. "That gives me a lot more confidence that they're not going to take their animals to a slaughterhouse that's horrific, that doesn't take into account animal welfare. That relationship is really important to us."

Runkle said he considers sustainability as core to what they do and he wants to encourage others to be mindful of where the things they consume come from. On top of that, he doesn't want vegetarians or vegans to see him as the enemy—on the contrary, he wants to unify for a cause.

"Right now, especially with the climate change discussion and the kind of hyperpolarized world that we live in, there is a default position for a lot of vegetarians and a lot of meat-eaters to automatically look at each other as adversaries," Runkle said. "I see factory farming and industrial meat production as my adversary and vegetarians and vegetarianism as a different reaction to the same information. I think we're actually closer in some regards to each other's point of view than we might realize and I am hopeful that that can be a basis of building some kind of common ground around addressing some structural problems in our food system."


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