Monday, 9 August 2010

The Compassionate Carnivore

It’s arrived!
I’m very excited with the arrival of much awaited parcel from Amazon on Saturday: The Compassionate Carnivore.
I started reading a little bit of it at the bookstore when I visited New York last month, but decided not to buy it then, so as not to add to the already bulging suitcase.
The author is a sheep farmer in Minnesota who, like me, really adores animals – on and off the plate.
I’m still on chapter 3, but already willing to rave about Catherine Friend’s realistic and at the same time humane approach to farming.
Can you really claim to be an animal lover and still eat meat? She describes the reality of her farm and shares her thoughts and experience on what constitutes ethical farming.

ESALQ: days of hard work and moderate drinking. Or something like that.
The book has some personal significance to me. When I left school, I went straight into an agronomic engineering course, and dived passionately into an internship at the school’s farm – a kind of university hospital version of a cattle farm. It was one of the happiest years of my life, despite the very early mornings, the brutally long hours of labouring, blisters, odd encounter with bad tempered bulls and general appalling working conditions a real world employer would never get away with. We learned about soil, pastures and animal health, we had enthusiastic and accessible lecturers, we had the chance to take part in a lot of research. But in all honesty, it was by hanging out with the animals that I really got my kicks. No matter how fascinating a lecture on feed conversion efficiency can be, it’s no match to bottle feeding a baby jersey still unsteady on her feet. Too cute.
I was still recovering from a deeply upsetting afternoon when I decided I would visit a slaughterhouse to toughen up a bit when I went to see a professor about some exam or something.
He was a nice man, deeply dedicated to his job and research, considered by all of us The God of Dairy. Waiting outside his office, I read a poem he had stuck to his door. It basically said: you’re in the wrong business if you went into dairy or beef farming for reasons such as:
- You love animals; (tick)
- You think calves are lovely; (tick)
- You think cows have distinct personalities and enjoy spending time with them as you would with a pet (tick tick tick).
I knew then this really wasn’t for me. What I loved was playing outdoors with giant pets. The science of dairy and beef cattle is tremendously interesting, but I’d never be able to make a business out of it.
Catherine Friend understands the difficulty – impossibility - of separating yourself emotionally from animals you raised, even if for business. She quotes philosopher and farmer Roger Scruton to describe the life of a livestock farmer:
Livestock farming is not merely an industry – it is a relation, in which a man and animal are bound together to their mutual profit, and in which a human duty of care is nourished by an animal’s mute recognition of dependency. “
She discusses the impact of animal farming on the environment and questions whether smaller scale, sustainable farming, which shows more compassion towards animals is the answer for ethical carnivores.
I don’t know if this model offers a realistic solution to the food industry. There are still around 7 billion people in the world, the majority of which need access to cheap food.
I haven’t finished the book yet and am hoping Friend will still talk about the relevance of her philosophy to a larger scale industry.
I do know, however, that I have no plans of ever turning vegetarian. And this book offers a lot of insight into the morals of animal raising and meat eating.
There's no escaping the slaughterhouse and the blood. But by facing this and also learning about humane standards of farming, you can make your own moral choices and hopefully still have a succulent rack of lamb for dinner.

To read more of Catehrine Friend's farming reality, her blog is a real enjoyable read:


  1. Hey, thanks for mentioning my book, The Compassionate Carnivore. It's exciting how many more people are really starting to pay attention to where their meat comes from. I'm encouraged... Perhaps one day instead of the small, sustainable farmer having to work so hard to find customers, the customers will be lined up at the farmhouse door!

    Love your blog---keep going! (So you're nearing 40? Ha. That's easy. When you hit 50 you're really gonna freak out....On second thought, don't think about that now!)

  2. I think I'll just start telling people I'm turning 60 so they think I look really good.
    Thanks for visiting, Catherine, and for the kind comments.
    Your book is making me hungry!