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The Eth­i­cal Car­ni­vore

Louise Gray (Blooms­bury, £16.99)

It wasn’t long ago that a coun­try per­son knew ex­actly where their meat had come from be­cause if they weren’t ca­pa­ble of wring­ing a bird’s neck, tak­ing the fam­ily pig to slaugh­ter or skin­ning a rab­bit, their fam­ily would go with­out. Now, such self-suf­fi­ciency is all but ob­so­lete—butch­ers’ shops no longer hang car­casses in the win­dow in case a re­al­is­tic an­i­mal shape of­fends squea­mish cus­tomers—and the con­sci­en­tious con­sumer re­lies on the foodie buz­zword ‘prove­nance’.

Louise Gray takes the idea of know­ing prove­nance to its lit­eral ex­treme: she spends a year only eat­ing an­i­mals she has killed, an aim she soon re­alises is im­prac­ti­cal for most peo­ple.

She’s a farmer’s daugh­ter, but ini­tially finds the project up­set­ting. there are tears as she searches the un­der­growth for a rab­bit she has shot and her legs trem­ble as a calf is about to be killed in a Jarvis stun box. She sees two un­sus­pect­ing pigs hu­manely dis­patched—killed in pairs be­cause they are gre­gar­i­ous—but then gives a hor­ri­ble, graphic de­scrip­tion of burn­ing, boil­ing, evis­cer­a­tion, ‘cloven hooves fly­ing around’, oceans of ‘ma­roon foam­ing blood’ and the sense that the slaugh­ter­house boss is test­ing her nerves.

When the night­mare of the ‘stuck pigs’ sub­sides, how­ever, Miss Gray be­gins to dis­pel pre­con­cep­tions. She finds a ‘sense of in­dus­try and pride’ at an abat­toir that sup­plies Mcdon­ald’s and ad­mires the dili­gent RSPCA of­fi­cers who care about an­i­mals but ac­cept that peo­ple eat meat; she de­scribes the gen­tle treat­ment of a bul­lock that is to be shot, con­clud­ing that it was not afraid and that death was in­stant. She re­alises that the peo­ple who fight hard­est for healthy rivers are the fish­er­men and that true shoot­ing peo­ple are em­bar­rassed by ex­ces­sive bags.

She ac­cepts that in­ten­sive chicken farm­ing done well isn’t cruel, but can’t help feel­ing, as most of us do, that it’s joy­less— if given the choice, chick­ens will al­ways ven­ture out­side, what­ever the weather, es­pe­cially if they can sun­bathe—and freerange meat is far tastier. She dis­cov­ers that, de­spite the dreamy at­mos­phere of a trout­fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion, her true in­stinct is to stop mess­ing around and catch a fish. She culls (shoots) a Soay lamb and even her ve­gan friends eat the meat be­cause it hasn’t been farmed in­ten­sively. She feels mo­men­tary sad­ness at shoot­ing a pheas­ant, but is pleased with her­self for be­ing ac­cu­rate and able to feed friends.

the book does have its ‘Brid­get Jones goes shoot­ing’ breathy tone at times, but it’s well paced, well re­searched and po­lit­i­cally even-handed. At the end of her car­niv­o­rous year, Miss Gray has formed a greater re­spect for farm­ers and slaugh­ter­men, yet pre­dicts that her own meat-eat­ing will be more dis­crim­i­na­tory. Most of all, it seems, she relishes the re­lease of her in­ner hunter-gatherer. Kate Green

Happy hen: in­ten­sive chicken farm­ing can be done well

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