Book Review: The Ethical Carnivore by Louise Gray
Updated: Feb 12, 2021
The Ethical Carnivore, My Year Killing To Eat by Louise Gray is something that I have wanted to read for a while. I'd see it pop up in my circles and be intrigued by the topic, increasingly so as eating meat or not becomes a large part of environmental living. To give some context to this book review, I read this book mostly whilst in lock down. I bought it secondhand in our local charity shop in November (when they were open..) Whether that changes my opinion of this book, I'm not sure, but the review can be found below.
Written in 2016, Louise explores what it takes to eat only meat that she has killed herself for a whole year. It's important to note, that this doesn't mean she goes full hunter gatherer, eating rabbit at every meal. She mentions, perhaps not in a very strong stance at the start, that she is otherwise largely vegetarian. She opts to eat meat she has killed when she has the opportunity to, like fishing trips at weekends. She doesn't have any dependants that she names (although her friends and family do come along for the meals often).
In 2016, this book came at a pivotal time for the discussions around meat eating. In 2014, when I was in my undergrad, it was becoming mainstream that meat production was having a huge impact, but it was still pretty controversial. This book therefore came at a great moment- when programmes on BBC in the evening showed slaughterhouses (and turned many teenagers vegetarian), it questions industrial food systems and turns more attention to small scale. Written before the wave of heated debates over veganism, the book delves into complexities of eating meat. For those who don't know much about food systems and their impacts, this book will be eye opening, stomach turning and potentially even life changing.
The meat eating debate has driven huge divisions, with many stakeholders arguing many different impassioned agendas. Louise has done a fairly good job at balancing that line, keeping the average reader fairly happy (through the shock of learning about slaughterhouses). And for this reason, I agree that this book is great for the average reader, wanting to safely delve into the ethics of eating or not eating meat.
For myself, as an ecologist, I see holes in the arguments in the book. I am disappointed that there are sometimes generalisations made that certain groups are good for conservation, something that is hotly debated. For example, although anglers do great work for lobbying against pollution, they also lobby against keystone species reintroductions, such as Otters. Obviously, topics like this are complex and although I may not agree with this stance, anglers have their own views on this and I may agree on other topics. I just wish the book delved more into this, rather than trying to sit on the fence with some issues. Again, this is a personal perspective as an ecologist. I wish sometimes the book got a bit more in-depth, a bit more radical, but then again, at time of writing this book was radical, it's just the debate about food systems has exploded (especially over social media) since then. One food item can come into fashion and be debunked as unsustainable again within weeks (almond milk).
For the average reader deciding whether to read The Ethical Carnivore, I recommend it. It would also be a great book to buy somebody who is interested in learning more about food and where it comes from, in an easy way. At times I found it a bit long, with a heavy focus on those privileged enough to enjoy the outdoors and access to those who know how to fish etc. Also, take things with a pinch of salt, knowing Louise Gray is approaching this topic from a neutral perspective, as good as that is for an introduction, there are of course many nuances with some of the topics glazed over for sake of ease of reading and digesting. It will certainly open your eyes to the world of meat production and consumption, something I do agree that we need more connection to, if we are going to make decisions about eating meat (and where from). I also enjoyed her round up of her year, at the end.
My biggest thought on finishing the book, is what does she think now? Although she mentions veganism, it has grown as a movement so much since writing, as has our understanding of privilege and access to the outdoors, but also the societal shift that has come with covid. I hope she does a follow up, I'd love to know her thoughts, as the world has changed a lot since 2016...
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