Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 5/3/2010 (2788 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Butcher and the Vegetarian
One Woman's Romp Through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis
By Tara Austen Weaver
Rodale, 223 pages, $29
Growing up in Northern California in the 1970s, American food writer and blogger Tara Austen Weaver ate mainly tofu, miso and alfalfa sprouts.
Her mother was a strict vegetarian who also eschewed processed food, sugar and salt. Weaver spent much of her childhood pining for the foods that her friends and classmates ate — potato chips, Jell-O, popsicles and, especially, meat.
In adulthood Weaver continued to adhere to her vegetarian diet, at the same time constantly battling fatigue and poor health. When a doctor suggested that she experiment with meat eating to see if it would improve her wellbeing, Weaver reluctantly agreed.
It is this experiment that forms the basis of Weaver's memoir, an honest and engaging debut book.
Weaver begins her meat experiment with a simple chicken stock. Within weeks she is cooking and feasting on crown roast, chimichurri steak, blood sausage and barbecued bacon.
Once she admits that she likes the taste of meat, she begins to wonder where it comes from, and sets out to investigate ethical meat production and humane slaughter.
Here Weaver covers much of the same ground as Jonathan Safran Foer in his recent vegetarian manifesto Eating Animals, but she does so with a lighter touch.
She visits ranches and slaughterhouses, talks to butchers and producers, and like Safran, quotes liberally from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.
In the end, she largely draws the same conclusions as Safran Foer — that factory farming should not be supported under any circumstances and that the planet would likely be better off if no one consumed any meat at all — but her approach is less pedantic, and laced with more humour and personal insight.
Weaver seems to clearly understand the role that food in general and meat-eating in particular plays in Western contemporary society. Food, she knows, is not just about sustenance.
"How we feed ourselves is an intensely personal act. It brings together all manner of family and cultural traditions, issues of health — both our own and the world at large — and the simple fact that we want to be delighted by what we eat; we want to be satisfied and comforted," she writes.
"Right or wrong, in a world that sometimes has sharp edges, food is often our solace."
The solace that Weaver herself finds in the consumption of meat proves only temporary. As much as she enjoys her carnivorous sojourn, she never really begins to feel better.
After a final desperate week devoted to eating meat at every meal, she turns to the opposite end of the spectrum and embraces a raw food diet. Oddly, she is surprised to discover that it is this diet that makes her feel better than she has in years.
Still, in spite of this discovery Weaver hesitates to say that she will never again eat meat. She does, however, acknowledge that she will never again eat meat without knowing where it comes from — and suggests that her readers do the same.
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer and wannabe vegetarian.