I briefly met Louise Gray, author of The Ethical Carnivore a couple of years ago at a friend’s birthday dinner at her Bruntsfield flat in Edinburgh. It was a ‘potluck’ style affair, where everyone brings something to share. I remember tasting one of Louise’s yummy venison sausages, while being told that she shot the deer, made the sausages and was writing a book about killing to eat. Amazing!! Unfortunately, as there was quite a few people at the table and I didn’t manage to chat properly to Louise, despite being intrigued about her project. Two years later, I’ve just finished reading her book, and thought I’d share it with you.
As an experienced environmental journalist, Louise recognised the many environmental arguments for not eating meat but hadn’t committed to becoming vegetarian. She decided to embark on a year (which evolved into two years) of only eating meat that she killed herself. During this period, Louise shoots animals and birds, pests and wild alike, catches a diversity of fish, eats roadkill, insects and vegan meat; concurrently expanding her culinary repertoire and learning skills like shucking, skinning, gutting, sausage making and butchery. Alongside her personal journey of sourcing meat, she also examines the farming, production and processing of meat and seafood. From abattoirs to fish farms, game shooting to angling, pig farms to stalking, Louise deftly interacts with the rawness of life and death through her close interactions with the people, animals and wider ecosystems involved. An honest and compelling read, The Ethical Carnivore courageously confronts ethical questions asking consumers to consider where their meat comes from and whether it is possible to simultaneously respect and kill animals for food.
The book is loaded with poetic descriptions of nature (“The dog violets wink through the orange bracken”), tales of her encounters with a cross section of people (slaughterhouse workers, farmers, fishermen, roadkill foragers, vegan meat producers), her emotional reactions to her experiences and facts (globally 49 million chickens are eaten every day!) which are all adeptly woven together so that The Ethical Carnivore becomes so much more just another book about meat. Her profound connection with nature and investigative passion are evident, making it abundantly clear that producing and eating food entwines people and nature together. Through food, we are connected to the land, to the rivers, lakes and sea, to animals and all the interconnections in between.
While respecting vegans and vegetarians, Louise doesn’t directly advocate their approach to food. Instead, using health, ethical and climate change arguments, her message is to eat less meat, to learn about where your meat comes from and how it is produced. Buying ethically and sustainably produced meat can sometimes be more expensive, but Louise suggests a range of different cuts of meat can often be found at your local butcher, some of which can be cheaper than the supermarket. Eating meat less frequently may also mean you can afford better quality meat.
As I’ve previously considered some of the ethics and issues associated with eating meat and fish, this book wasn’t life changing for me, but it has topped up my knowledge of meat and fish production. Like Louise, I’m not strictly vegetarian or vegan, although I’ve changed my meat consumption habits greatly over the last decade as I’ve learnt more about the impacts it can have on health and the environment. I eat a lot of vegetarian food and try to consciously seek ethical or sustainably produced meat where possible. This has become a bit more of a challenge while living in Thailand, as with limited language skills, it’s difficult to ascertain where meat has come from and source nutritious vegetarian meals.
A well-researched and inspiring read, The Ethical Carnivore is a must for anyone curious about food or interested in exploring the ethics of our carnivorous ways. If reading books isn’t your thing or you want to find out more, Sustainababble’s interview with Louise is well worth listening to.