Book Review: The Ethical Carnivore
By Louise Gray
I recently met Louise Gray, the author of The Ethical Carnivore, a meat-eater, a farmer’s daughter, and an environmental journalist. In this book, she describes her year-long experiment of only eating animals she has killed herself.
What I like most about the book is that it looks at the whole story. Louise explores and listens instead of jumping to conclusions. She describes the whole process, from farm to fork. And she talks about many different animals, not just cattle and chickens. Those may be the animals we consume most (and Louise does talk about them in detail), but food needs to be looked at in context. This book discusses pigs, sheep, many types of game, and it addresses the very interesting question ‘But what about fish?’. Each chapter of the book covers a different animal. All chapters are informative and captivating by wrapping facts and figures into stories.
To give some examples:
Lots of the fish we eat is wild and welfare concerns seem to be of less importance. However, overfishing can threaten both species and eco-systems. The way we currently do it is very disruptive. As Louise puts it: “If we dragged a massive weighted net over the Serengeti ploughing up the grassland and scooping up lions, elephants, antelopes, dung beetles – then throwing half of them away – there would be an outcry. Yet it is what we are doing every day to the bottom of the seabed.” Considering the impact of these practices on oceans and coastal communities has made me think about fish in a different way.
The research Louise quotes sounds almost unbelievable: 95% of chickens in the UK are barn-reared (i.e. not free-range) and in Britain alone we eat 2.2 million chickens EVERY DAY. That’s a lot, if you think about chickens as animals. But when I quickly did some back-of-the-envelope calculations I was even more surprised: this equates to ½ a chicken breast per person per week. That isn’t that much if you think about chicken breast as a healthy consumer food product. Louise visits different farms that raise chickens in very different ways. Understanding the differences can easily change your purchasing behaviour.
“It costs around £100 to raise a pig, yet they will barely sell for £50 in the market.” Louise describes the very high cost pressure in the meat industry and its impact on slaughtering and meat processing. She doesn’t hold back when describing the process and her descriptions really go under the skin. I had the book with me while waiting to see my doctor. My blood pressure was a lot higher than usual. I was concerned about my health until I realised that I had been in the middle of reading a chapter about an abattoir. Interesting insight: I can’t even read about this.
Squirrel / Road Kill
I’m not going to tell you more about these chapters. You’ll have to read for yourself, but I can say that some of the stories are hilarious and I promise that you’ll enjoy them.
Eating meat is not an easy topic. Not only does it carry an extraordinarily high emotional value for most of us. There is rarely one right and obvious answer, which can be very frustrating. Most questions can best be answered with ‘it depends’, because you need to consider the relationship between human health and enjoyment, animal health and well-being, the health of eco-systems, and the preservation of species. The Ethical Carnivore achieves a great balance by considering all aspects and allowing readers to make their own, more informed choices. It is a vivid and eye-opening story that explores and answers some of the questions that more and more of us are asking. Louise does it all in a way that is captivating and even funny.
‘Ethical’ in this book isn’t about the question whether we should kill animals. The story is about respect – respect for animals and the products we derive from them, as well as respect for the people who work in the meat industry. Louise provides an interesting new perspective on meat eating by asking the relevant questions and exploring the answers in a very hands-on way. Her book respects the choice to eat meat. It just challenges readers to do it in an informed way.
In the end, the book comes to the same conclusion we have come to (yes, I am biased). There aren’t any good arguments against eating LESS meat.
Who is this book good for?
This is a very honest book. Not written for people who’d prefer to keep their eyes shut. Louise gives a very factual and visceral account of things. While the book is neither preachy nor political, it doesn’t hold back either.
For anyone who loves meat or is on the fence, Louise asks, explores and partly answers exactly the questions you are probably asking yourself already and she provides all the information you need to make your own decisions.