Sunday book review – the Ethical Carnivore by Louise Gray


Louise Gray is a former Daily Telegraph environmental journalist. She writes well and this is a book that all should read – but it isn’t simply a duty, it is a gritty pleasure.

Louise set off on a year’s journey only to eat meat that she had killed herself – despite being close to being vegetarian anyway.  So there’s the first tension that runs through the book – the author isn’t that keen on meat, and is rather keen on animals, but she sets herself the task of taking responsibility for the death of many animals in order to get deep into the issue.

How will she cope with the angst? Will she cope? How will she feel at the end of it? What does she make of the people she meets along the way who kill animals for fun, or because it’s their job, and what will she think of the rest of us who eat meat and get someone else to do the dirty work for us and don’t think about it too much?

As the daughter of a farmer, and a country girl, Louise might be expected to show more sympathy for the hunting, shooting and fishing folk that she meets than actually comes through in this book. There are a couple of passages in the few pages on grouse shooting that suggest that Louise has swallowed a rural myth hook, line and sinker in one case and has misunderstood the issues in another. The mistake is the last sentence on p187 ‘Conservationists blame grouse moors for continuing to persecute hen harriers, although no-one has ever been prosecuted for doing so‘.  See Inglorious p40-41 for one conviction of a gamekeeper for killing a Hen Harrier and another of a gamekeeper for ‘going equipped to kill a hen harrier’ (also note Louise’s use of the word ‘blame’ which suggests that this might be rather unfair of them/us).  The misunderstanding comes in Louise’s short description of brood meddling – it’s not surprising that she misunderstands it, it doesn’t make any sense.

But I feel a bit mean pointing out these minor lapses because this is a largely unbiased book and one which should interest a wide range of people. If you eat lots of meat, or none at all, or somewhere in between, then you will be stimulated to think about your decisions and their impacts by moving with Louise on her journey.

Louise visits abattoirs, grouse moors, fishing vessels, good areas for road kill and wields various implements of animal death through the course of this book.

In India about a quarter of the population is vegetarian, in the so-called developed world the figure is usually less than 10% and often around 4%.  I have at least four, but often more, meat-free days a week but the lamb chops I ate last Sunday were delicious – and a treat (and yes, I know where they grew up, I saw them walking around the fields and I know the farmers who produced them (by their first names)).

Reading this book might nudge you to eat less meat and to think about it more.  But even if it doesn’t, and it’s not at all preachy, it is a thought-provoking and enjoyable read.  But now and again, when a life is about to end, you’ll feel the emotion of the author and it will make you look at dinner differently.


The Ethical Carnivore by Louise Gray is published by Bloomsbury.


Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.  Updated paperback edition now out.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson.


11 Replies to “Sunday book review – the Ethical Carnivore by Louise Gray”

  1. There is nothing ethical about being a carnivore. How can imprisoning, torturing and killing a sentient being purely for pleasure/convenience/habit be ethical? It doesn’t make a difference if you know where the meat came from. Would you be comfortable buying products made by slaves if you were on first name terms with the slave owner? Also, there is nothing to congratulate yourself about reducing your meat consumption. Would you congratulate someone for being a violent racist only on the weekends rather than everyday? However good a life you think an animal may of had, there is nothing humane about killing it (at a young age) when it wants to live. Just as it wouldn’t be humane to kill a person painlessly in their sleep.

    1. Floyd – thanks very much for your comment. Your comment will encourage many to put any thought of becoming vegetarian or eating less meat to the back of their minds.

      1. My comment was written hurriedly, the last thing I wanted was to advocate vegetarianism – which is just as unethical as omnivory. Veganism is the only ethical stance. Besides, I think you overestimate my influence.

        1. Floyd – really? Omnivory is just as unethical as vegetarianism in your book? I might as well eat steak every meal if you are right?

    2. “it wouldn’t be humane to kill a person painlessly in their sleep”

      It might be more humane than letting someone die slowly and distressingly from nothing at all but for legal reasons I expect I’ll be forced to die slowly and painfully while I am still awake – proselytizing veganity does the trick and it should be regarded as a hate crime

  2. Vegans appear to have have plateau-ed at 1 in 200 of the population and should be sidetracked by anyone serious about wanting to stop the meat trade until they stop being so hateful to allies, the size of their mouth is out of context with the size of their group but the sad fact is they appear the only group mouthy enough to make the points about the modern meat industry being truly evil, a proper holocaust which would surely end if real people like this wrote more books like this and stopped listening to the hate vegans peddle all the time which is shown to turn the MASS population off. New ethical eating groups like pescetarians and flexivegetarians appear more balanced in their interactions, and more in touch with others realities in promoting an AR agenda in food, and one looks forward to this book being similar.

  3. My problem with vegetarians is that if it’s big, got real eyes and is cute it must be saved but if it’s small and doesn’t have real eyes then it is expendable. Animals die in ALL mass production of food, however it’s only the cute ones which get any sympathy. Nature designed the animals of the world to eat each other, nature knows not what the definition of cruel is, and while treating our food animals kindly before slaughter makes us feel good it was not part of nature’s grand plan. We humans for whatever reason think we know better than nature. We don’t. Without eating animals our ancestors would have mostly died out.

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