I loved this book - Ethical Carnivore by Louise Gray - it got better the further in and I found myself thinking about it quite a lot. Louise comes across as a kind, determined, vulnerable woman who wants to be honest about what she does. She eats meat - so what is the honest thing? Kill it for yourself and don't hide behind plastic packaging and anonymous looking chunks of pink stuff.
Louise comes from a farming/shooting background and so the idea of picking up a gun isn't totally new, although it seems her brothers took to it as children more than she did. When she made this decision to spend a year only eating meat she killed herself, at least she had her dad to teach her how to handle a gun and take her out to shoot rabbits, I wouldn't have a clue who to ask.
The first chapter is less strong than the rest, it feels a bit - well- shaky. She finds it hard to manage the gun and can't dispatch a rabbit without tears. I probably wouldn't have started this way, but her vulnerability comes across straight away, and that is good. She isn't a campaigning, tattooed activist who lies in front of lorries, she is a normal, sensitive westerner who has been removed from the reality of food and now has decided to face up to what it means to eat meat. I liked that - I identified with her fears and squeamishness, I couldn't have done what she did.
She delves headlong into abattoirs and intensive chicken farms, eating road kill, going on fishing trawlers and breaking the necks of roosters. Eventually she tackles shooting a deer. She visits farms where animals are simply units to be processed and others where they are loved until they die humanely. She describes being in a large abattoir as being in hell and was deeply traumatised. Addressing the question of whether CCTV should be be installed in them she says no - no one should see what happens, it is like being in a vile dream. But how else do you despatch enough animals to supply the ever growing demand for meat in this country? Around 8 billion animals (livestock and fish) are killed each year in the UK for food. Can that really be true? This figure is taken from a vegan website which says:
The total number of animals killed in British slaughterhouses in 2013 was over a billion.
I was particularly interested in reading this book after making "Would You Eat An Alien?" for Radio 4 - a whacky look at the intelligence and sentience of farm animals. It was such an eye-opening set of programmes to be involved with and taught me a lot. We are strange creatures, we don't treat chickens as real birds, or cows as real mammals - somehow farmed animals are different to their wild relations. But of course they are not. Maternal and social bonds are just as strong, the ability to feel pain and fear is just as strong - but it is far easier if we don't acknowledge it. If we had to kill pigs or cows ourselves I am sure most would be vegetarian pretty quickly. But we don't and we absorb the Old MacDonald farm image and turn a blind eye to reality.
I went to see Louise give a talk at the Birdfair this year - she asked if the audience would rather be a chicken or a pheasant? Clever and brave for that venue - the majority of whom would be opposed to pheasant shooting. Most of the people there, and I am sure more generally, would choose to be a pheasant - given than it lives a wild life until shot (or run over or eaten by a fox). Surely better than living for only 6 weeks, bloated and full of chemicals, hardly able to stand and never seeing daylight. She was courageous, polite and definitely, in my opinion, held the moral argument. There is no doubt pheasants - agree with their existence in the UK or not, have a better life than your average broiler.
Therefore I applaud Louise - she didn't pretend everything was fine - she found out for herself, carried on eating meat but did the honest thing and killed it with her own hands. And the surprising thing is - she carries on trying to eat only the animals she kills, which has had a drastic effect on how much meat she eats. She now eats mainly vegetarian food with occasional meat thrown in. That seems to be a very healthy and sensible way to live. We all know the dangers of too much rich, animal fat. Many people in the West overdose on protein they don't need (my family for a start!)
Well done Louise - well written, direct from the heart, not one ounce of preachiness and its challenging. Its a great read. And if I was asked round to Louise's for a squirrel supper, I think I would look forward to it very much.