The Compassionate Carnivore
Published by Da Capo Life Long
This would not be the first book I’ve read that was written by a shepherd. There are some good points in the book along with a good sense of humor. Most people who read this will already know industrial feedlots are not a good thing. I heard somewhere a long time ago that no one can do a thing unless they are somehow able to justify it to themselves. So how do feedlot operators do what they do? At least some of them actually believe the cows don’t mind. Ms. Friend shares the anecdote about a cattleman with a large feedlot who was telling his visitors just that. When one of the visitors suggested he open the gate to the open field and let the cows decide, he was disinclined to acquiesce.
The reader gets a fairly detailed view of what goes on around a sheep farm. We see not just the scenic, fun and pleasant side but also the less glamorous and sometimes painful side also. We get some excellent pointers on solving problems which are sure to come in very useful someday. For example, if you have an upset pig, the way to calm her down—give her a beer. We also learn a little about the joys of AI (farmers know what that is and for the computer people, it does not mean artificial intelligence in this context). We also see how difficult it can be for many farmers when it is time to ship the animals they cared for off to the slaughterhouse.
There are other good points through the book. There is a good chapter on how USDA organic standards have subverted the original intention behind organic food. In some areas it is not even possible to meet official organic standards. One important feature of being compassionate is not wasting this real food. When you buy it, eat it—all of it. Eat it with gratitude. Don’t turn it into a science experiment that sits in the back of the refrigerator for years. The author also briefly mentions the question of what, ultimately, is the purpose of these animals? I was disappointed that she didn’t go into more detail but I suppose that’s just me.
Toward the end there is a chapter on vegan strategy. In a nutshell the point is that the vegan strategy for helping animals is ineffective. I would agree. Their strategy is just to not eat any animal products. OK, if that’s what you want to do, that’s your choice, but how does that help? I can just see the feedback I’m going to get for saying this but I don’t care. Since healthy omnivores are generally better at reproducing that vegans, it is unlikely that vegans will ever be a majority and by simply not eating meat, they are not helping themselves and they are not really helping animals, which will just be eaten by those pesky omnivores.
This is not a totally bad book and almost got a thumbs up but the author strayed into environmental issues and got on my nerves a little. Some may think I’m being a little too harsh and I respect that, but here is how I see it. Part of the subtitle of the book mentions something about reducing your hoofprint. When that statement is out there all by itself, it invites all kinds of misinterpretation. It seems to imply we have too many cows, sheep, etc. In fairness, the author never actually quite says that. I think what she means is that big farms are too big. We certainly cram too many animals too close together in CAFOs but, in the big picture, we don’t have too many cows or sheep.
The author does say that the methane produced by ruminants is an environmental hazard and even provides a reference. Well, I know where that pseudo-science comes from (the same end of the bovine that produces the methane) and I’m not impressed. This is where I must strongly disagree. I think Matt Rales did an excellent job in the Spring 2008 Wise Traditions of explaining that methane is a non-issue. Joel Salatin has also made the good point many times that decaying, rotting grass will produce methane whether it is inside the cow or not. You might as well get a good steak out of it. Dr. Tom Cowan made the point in his article in the Winter 2009 Wise Traditions that massive herds of buffalo stomped around the great plains for thousands of years. There was no global warming. In fact, the result was some of the thickest, most fertile soil in the world. CAFOs are an environmental hazard. Our abuse of animals is an environmental hazard.
The merest suggestion that ruminants are an environmental hazard threatens my access to real food and therefore, my survival. I can’t just let that go as a minor point. The book overall didn’t exactly rock my world, and with this key flaw, the thumb is down.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2010.