Over the course of a year, former Scottish Field staff writer Louise Gray decides to only eat what she has killed, a task that sounds impossible but is achieved with a gritty determination.
Gray faces a variety of challenges – like the fact she might not be a very good shot – and overcomes these while also demonstrating important lessons about where the food we eat comes from and how it is nurtured and killed.
She takes in the complete spectrum of food consumption and production from McDonald’s burgers, farmed fish and halal slaughter to the growing alternative food culture available to us, which includes roadkill and alternative sources of protein such as insects, in-vitro meat and plant-based proteins.
As the title suggest, Gray – who was largely vegetarian before beginning this project – spends a lot of time killing fish, squirrels and game, including deer.
She doesn’t pull any punches with tales of the actual slaughter, but horrible as the descriptions of killing are, they are realistic and more matter-of-fact than indulgent.
‘Nothing, no Gaelic songs, shooting literature, philosophy, nothing, can give you the answer,’ she writes. ‘People ask: what was going through your head? What were you thinking? I know what I wasn’t thinking. There is no testosterone surge, no primordial hit, no elation.’
It’s a brutally honest assessment of what some consider sport, and some consider murder.
Gray is also informative: her knowledge, backed up by impressive research, educates the reader on why we produce the meat in the way we do and why we use certain methods of capture. Yet she is never judgemental.
With a charm that endears, Gray keeps the reader hooked with tongue-in-cheek stories of embarrassing foot-in-mouth moments. She tells us of awkward friends and failed flirting, mixing it up with triumphant tales of overcoming her modern fears.
Gray intelligently articulates the modern dilemma of how to eat meat in a sustainable way. As she astutely points out, eating 60 billion animals a year is damaging our environment, so why isn’t everyone asking whether we should be cutting down our meat consumption?
This book is at times an uncomfortable read, there are grim moments and Gray forces you to question your own assumptions and eating habits – but it is a must-read for everyone, not just for carnivores.
The Ethical Carnivore, by Louise Gray, published by Bloomsbury, £16.99.