A Fourth-Generation Butcher’s Journey Into The Low-Meat Trend

"When I started doing this, everyone thought I was crazy. My coworkers and customers thought it was so silly." That's Cara Nicoletti, she's a fourth-generation butcher, television host, and author of Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books. She's also the founder of Seemore Meat & Veggies, the buzzy blended meat sausage brand that's all over meat aisles and Instagram. 
If you haven't noticed packs of Seemore in your local grocery store or seen the shoutouts in the New York Times, New Yorker, and Bon Appétit, here's what you need to know: the brand, which was founded in 2019, produces sausages that are made with a combination of certified humanely raised meat and up to 35% fresh vegetables. The results are craveable sausages that conjure up the experience of dining on delicious stand-alone dishes like broccoli melts, loaded baked potatoes, and chicken soup. These sausages, though trendy now, are the exact creation that had so many people thinking Nicoletti was nuts. 
You might not expect a butcher — especially one who was raised by a butcher who was also raised by a butcher — to be the one to go all-in on blended meat, but it's actually Nicoletti's specific experience that informed her decision to create these sausages. "I grew up in the meat industry — the very traditional meat industry," she tells Refinery29. "We ate a lot of meat growing up, and we didn't always know exactly where it came from. It came from my grandpa's shop, but who knows before that." As a young adult, Nicoletti worked in restaurants for a few years, and it was there that she became disillusioned with all the waste, specifically the meat waste, she was seeing. In 2009, she got an apprenticeship at The Meat Hook, a whole animal butcher shop in Brooklyn, and during her five years there, became committed to sustainable meat-eating, which at the time was a new concept.
"I started getting really frustrated that I was selling so much meat to the same people over and over again," Nicoletti explains. "We were dealing with these gorgeous, grass-fed pastured animals, and people would just come back every single night to eat them. That's just not sustainable." Yes, the bougie Brooklynites were very much on-board with the rising farm-to-table movement. They wanted to know where their meat was coming from and that the animals were being treated humanely. But as important as that is in being a conscious consumer of meat, it's simply not enough. Raising and processing animals in a more humane way that produces less pollution also takes more time than the processes used by factory farms, which means there often isn't enough of it to go around, especially if you’re committed to buying locally. So Nicoletti began experimenting with different tactics that she hoped would slow down her customers' meat consumption.
"I tried to make veggie burgers and none of my customers would go near them," the butcher shares. So she got a bit tricky: "I started sneaking vegetables into sausages." That's right, the same strategy Jessica Seinfeld famously employed to get kids to eat more veggies by hiding spinach and carrots in brownies was used by Nicoletti on her meat-loving Brooklyn butcher shop customers.
Though blended meat burgers and nuggets are seemingly everywhere these days, she chose to work with sausage because of her own nostalgia for sausage-making and sausage's status as a "democratic meat." "Sausages were always the thing that I gravitated to most. Sausage-making was a thing that we were allowed to do growing up in the shop because it was considered the least dangerous thing," the butcher says. "It was also really the first sustainability-minded food. Sausage is thousands and thousands of years old, and it was essentially created to make whole animal utilization possible, with scrap usage and salt preservation." Once she chose the medium, Nicoletti turned to the green market next door to The Meat Hook. She asked the woman who ran it for vegetable scraps that were leftover at the end of each week and began incorporating those into her sausages in innovative ways that resulted in fun flavors like bánh mì and chicken soup. "People just went crazy for it," she says.
That's where the concept behind Seemore Meat & Veggies began, and Niolletti devoted the next several years, while butchering in a few other shops, to perfecting her blended meat and vegetable sausages. Eventually, she was making 5,400 pounds of blended sausage a month all by herself. When it came time to expand her idea, Nicoletti teamed up with Erin Patinkin, the CEO and co-founder of Ovenly, whom she'd known in the food industry for years. It was Patinkin who pushed the sausage-maker to think bigger than just opening a store, and they set out to launch a packaged product that could be sold all over the country. After about six months, the pair brought on their third partner and COO, Ariel Hauptman, who Nicoletti refers to as an "operations genius," and Seemore Meat & Veggies officially launched its packaged products in February 2020.
Low-meat foods are a natural next step for the sustainable farming movement, with blended meat quickly distinguishing itself as one of the most effective ways to get more people on board with consuming less meat. Nicoletti realized this after her veggie burger debacle. "I have found that when you tell people not to do something entirely, they usually want to do it more. So, if I'm pushing a veggie burger on somebody, I don't know why, but the human response seems to be, 'Well, no, then I'm going to get a ribeye.'" But she says she's also seen a shift in the cultural consciousness around meat-eating in the years since she started sneaking veggies into sausages.
"Ten years ago, we were talking about sustainability and whole animal butchery, but it was in this macho way," she explains. "I think now people have really started to understand the global warming impact of meat-eating because information has become a lot more readily available." That information has begun to affect the consumer habits of millennials and Gen Zs in particular. According to a recent study conducted by Fullscreen, a social content company that serves talent and brands, 40% of young consumers are planning to eat less meat in the coming year. 
"Young people are feeling more interconnected than ever before to the planet and to their actions," Mukta Chowdhary, senior director of strategy and cultural forecasting at Fullscreen, tells Refinery29. "Not only do they feel that their actions have a direct impact on the planet, but they also feel that their health is linked to the planet's health. Our survey found that 82% agree that the health of the planet directly impacts the health of humans, so eating a more plant-based diet, for them, is a way to not only be healthier but also to help the health of the planet. They're inextricably linked." 
One of Seemore's signature sausages is cleverly named La Dolce Beet-a, and its key ingredient is fresh beets. That, of course, means the sausage is magenta. "It's very close to my heart because it got me attention for what I was doing and it’s such a divisive one," Nicoletti shares. "When people try it, it's generally the favorite, but it is hard to get people to try because it's such a weird color." This initial skepticism the founder speaks of also seems to be turning into less of a problem. "Another thing we found in our sustainability survey is that Gen Zs and millennials are really willing to push their palates for the planet. 79% agreed that they were willing to try new foods if they knew it was good for the planet," Chowdhary explains.
While young people are clearly more open to different ways of eating more sustainably, that doesn't mean all of them are turning to veganism and vegetarianism. "Millennials and Gen Zs don't want to be labeled as anything ever. So this flexible lifestyle is just who they are," Chowdhary says. 
Of course, it's not just millennials and Gen Zs that are reducing the amount of meat they consume. Nicoletti says that 33% of people in the U.S. now identify as flexitarian, and she doesn't think that's going away anytime soon. There is evidence that this middle ground of committing to eating less meat is more effective in the long-run than simply giving up meat altogether, especially since veganism and vegetarianism, like so many other sustainability-focused movements, can be inaccessible from a financial standpoint. 
That exclusivity is what pushed Nicoletti to create Seemore Meat & Veggie instead of bowing out of the butcher game and giving up meat for good. "My greatest driving force is that I want to make good meat more accessible for people," she says. "I think that the sustainable meat movement is exclusionary, and it's specifically really economically exclusionary. That was something that I was frustrated with when I was working at these boutique shops, because if you want to turn the dial on something and want to really make people eat less meat, then you have to have it be a mainstream product that's available to a lot of people. I wanted to educate customers on a much larger scale about the fact that you don't have to give up meat entirely to eat it responsibly."
Seemore's eye-catching branding, use of fresh vegetables, and backstory do set it apart, but it's far from the only brand that's embracing the blended meat concept. Hormel, Tyson, Perdue, and more have, in recent months, also released meat products that are blended with plant-based ingredients. Though supporting these food giants may seem antithetical to the eco-consciousness that's been driving this movement, the fact that they're investing in the low meat market means the trend is going mainstream, and that Nicoletti definitely wasn't crazy.

More from Food & Drinks

R29 Original Series