Michael Spahn – Vegan, Visionary, Master Butcher
Michael Spahn is a trained master butcher who has been self-employed for 30 years. He’s a father, a creative, and… a vegan.
Decades of being in such close proximity to meat through his work eventually led to high cholesterol levels, which forced him to change his diet. For the good of his health and animal welfare, the master butcher decided to live a completely vegan lifestyle. This dietary about‑turn in his private life led to vegan meats appearing in his butcher’s shop. From then on, his own business produced only plant-based products, while the production of the traditional Spahn classics made from animal products was taken over by a partner business. Animal lover Spahn decided that he would be a “meat-free butcher”, and his love of experimenting has since led him to develop many vegan alternatives to his meat products. His recipes come about through experimentation, trying things out and simply by doing. “Without spices and the right skills, a piece of meat would taste of nothing too. That means that for plant-based products, too, the secrets to achieving the right flavor are expert seasoning, first-class machinery and mastery of butchery skills.”
Neither his workflow nor his job title have changed – he just uses different ingredients now. While his vegan blood sausage is made from black lentils, the vegan white sausage starts off as a flour mixture.
The regular customers of his butcher’s shop in Frankfurt, and the customers he aims to appeal to, are a mix of vegans, familiar faces and curious people willing to give the vegan products a try. First and foremost, however, Michael Spahn is able to rely on his loyal base of regular customers. There’s the grandmother looking for a vegan alternative for her grandchild, or the newbie vegan who, just like butcher Spahn, has recently decided to embark on a plant-based diet. In order to stay true to his professional honor, and to not get on the wrong side of his fellow butchers, he made the conscious decision not to name his vegan products after their meat-based counterparts. The vegan bratwurst is known as a “griller”, while the rice-based vegan version of a popular German dish made from raw pork mince (“Zwiebelmett”) is also known by a different name. This way, the butcher is able to “feed two birds with one scone” – nobody has to go against their working ethos, and the vegan “doppelgänger” of each product is clearly labeled and easy to order.
Spahn’s master butcher’s shop is able to stand its ground despite the competition from mass production. At a time when more and more butcher’s shops are closing because their business has been taken away by large industrial establishments, Spahn’s shop has been going strong since 1992. But even the large-scale butchering industry has got wind of the boom in vegan products, and are now introducing their own vegan alternatives to their ranges. However, Michael Spahn is not afraid of being pushed out of the market. Instead, he sees this as confirmation that he’s on the right track, and is happy to be carrying out “pioneering work” by leading the way towards vegan alternatives which might then be spread to the masses by the industry giants.
And it’s as unlikely that he will run out of new ideas for vegan products as it is that his desire to make his business a success and pursue this project that’s so close to his heart will diminish. It’s a passion that is not dimmed, even by the criticism he receives. The vegan butcher mainly gets criticized by vegans who object to the fact that he continues, to a great degree, to make his livelihood from animal products. Out of a sense of responsibility towards his staff and the families the butcher’s shop serves, however, Mr Spahn has to consider his business from a financial perspective, and is not able to transition to an exclusively vegan range just yet. At the moment, the demand for vegan products does not create enough turnover to make up for the loss of the meat products, meaning that for the moment, he still has to retain more than one string to his bow. If the turnover from vegan products continues to increase, however, it would be conceivable that he could produce and sell plant-based products only. Until this goal is reached, Michael Spahn considers his range of animal products as a way of subsidizing the development of the vegan part of his business, with which he started out on his very own, plant-based path.