Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book review: The Compassionate Carnivore

The Compassionate Carnivore: Or, how to keep animals happy, save old Macdonald's farm, reduce your hoofprint, and still eat meat
by Catherine Friend

This book is an excellent mix of factual information, amusing anecdotes about the author's experience farming sheep and steers, and consumer recommendations or suggestions on how to find the meat products we want.

Friend makes the case first for why we should care about how the animals that become our meat are treated, killed, and processed; then guides readers through four basic steps to being more compassionate carnivores:

1. Pay attention.  Know where and how your meat is produced; don't allow yourself to be fed, like a baby bird.
2. Waste less meat.  Really scary statistics on how much meat Americans eat, and how much we throw away.
3. Replace factory meat with "happy meat".  How to find sources for happy meat, what makes a livestock operation "humane," why we should care.
4. Choose meatless meals over factory meat.  Mostly for use at restaurants: if you can't be sure it's happy meat (and most isn't), go veggie.

I also appreciate what she says about the most effective way to create change, both in our individual lives and in the larger national food system.  "Change that doesn't last isn't change; it's a fad." (pg. 256)  Friend advocates for small, sustainable changes in the way we approach meat consumption.  She also points out that in order to change the way the system works, we must stay at the table; vegetarians, while they may vocally advocate for humane treatment of animals, have no skin in the game.  They don't spend their capital on any kind of meat.  If everyone who opposed inhumane treatment of animals did that, then farmers who treat their animals humanely would have no market, and would go out of business, leaving only the inhumane operations.

I have now read two of Friend's books (this one and Hit by a Farm); I look forward to reading her most recent publication, Sheepish.  Her style is conversational, at times raucously funny or dryly witty, yet always manages to treat her subject with compassion.

Grade: A+.  Recommended to anyone who tried to read Michael Pollan but got too bogged down in all the facts and figures and seriousness.

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