Is it possible to be an ethical carnivore?

23rd October 2017
We should all know exactly where our meat comes from. But does an ethical carnivore exist? What if you took this modern day maxim literally into your own hands? What if you only ate animals you killed yourself?

Fed up of friends claiming to care about the provenance of their food, environmental journalist Louise Gray decided to live out the argument in its extreme and only eat meat she has killed herself for a year.

As she reconnects with nature, she begins to question modern attitudes to the meat we eat in an effort to answer the question: How did we end up eating so much meat, with no idea how animals are raised and killed on our behalf?

Louise Gray in the field during her Ethical Carnivore journey

Louise Gray in the field during her ethical carnivore journey.

How did we end up eating so much meat, with no idea how animals are raised?

Are you a vegetarian? A vegan? A flexitarian? A feastarian? Or an ecotarian? Or just an ordinary person fed up of being labelled for the simple act of eating? Me too.

In fact, I got so fed up of trying to explain my position on food, I took the radical act of only eating animals I killed myself for a year. It seemed a more honest approach than constantly having to explain that yes, I eat meat, and I would just like to know, for my own conscience, where it comes from. This way I knew exactly where the meat came from, including the moment of death.

To be an ethical carnivore, where do you start?

As soon as I stared on my journey, I realised how much I needed to learn. I began with game and fish. Although it was upsetting, I found learning the skills of the countryside and taking responsibility ultimately empowering. I also explored how commercial livestock is farmed on our behalf. I found investigating factory farmed pigs and chickens shocking, but learning to trust small farmers who take responsibility for the whole life of their animals convinced me there is a humane way to eat meat.

The journey ended up being over two years as I needed time to not only learn to fish and shoot, but to organise and process psychologically visits to abattoirs. It also ended up being a book, The Ethical Carnivore, as I realised so many of my friends also wanted to know exactly where their meat is from. The conclusion is not that everyone needs to kill animals themselves – that would be ridiculous – but we do need to understand how animals are raised and slaughtered in order to make better decisions.

Does an ethical carnivore exist?

Does an ethical carnivore exist? Photo: Nat Towell

“Maintaining the British landscape we know and love”

I hope my book has enabled many people to feel they now have that knowledge. The next step is to find suppliers who can provide the kind of meat you want to eat. This is where Farmdrop steps in. I featured two farmers who supply Farmdrop in the book and was impressed by their innovative approach to connecting consumers with farmers.

I realised early on that the farmers I met were not bad people. In most cases I would argue they are better people than me. I respected their hard work and dedication. I wanted to go further and celebrate them and their part in not only providing nutritious food, but in maintaining the British landscape we know and love.

If you accept an animal must die for you to eat meat (and I don’t see how you can deny that without becoming a vegan) then you must accept responsibility for how it has lived and died. Access to books and the internet means we now all have the power to make better decisions. It shouldn’t take a label to show you care.

Below is a very short extract from the end of Chapter three, when I consider the difficulty of where our meat comes from. Roly is a farmer in West Sussex, who I have visited on a number of occasions. Henry is his favourite ewe.

I phone up Roly to see how this year’s lambing is looking. The sheep have just been scanned. ‘Henry’s having triplets!’

The first she’s had since she started lambing six years ago. We chat for a while about the book. I am still struggling to find a way to explain, to make sense of the journey of meat.

‘It’s always difficult, it’s difficult.’ I imagine Roly in his overalls by the phone, his hands grimy with work, thinking about his sheep. ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do it,’ he says. There is a pause. ‘When I go to the abattoir, which is just down the road, when I’m waiting with the livestock trailer to let the lambs out, I’m always struck by the amount of birds and wildlife in the hedgerows right next to…’

He can’t quite say the words: where there is life, there is death, especially in farming.

The Ethical Carnivore: My Year of Killing to Eat, by Louise Gray is published by Bloomsbury, RRP £16.99

This article first appeared on the Farmdrop blog in October 2016.

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