Meat is a conversation starter. You can no longer identify yourself as an omnivore or a herbivore anymore. There are carnivores that really eat meat and revel in it. There are caring omnivores that only eat humanely raised meat. There are people that are vegetarians out in public but might cook themselves meat at home. And then there's the gateway drug: bacon. Bacon has been known to make even the most dedicated vegetarian stray, creating a "bacontarian."
The complicated and sometimes humorous and weird world of meat is explored with honesty in Tara Austen Weaver's new book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian. Weaver is a West Coast food writer and author of the award-winning Tea and Cookies blog, who, after suffering from chronic fatigue, is told by her doctor to start eating meat. The lifelong vegetarian, who was raised in the counter-culture of Northern California in the 1970s, faces a moral crisis. Her desire to get healthy and her journalistic instinct help her turn that crisis into an examination of the world of meat.
She begins by examining what meat stands for. The "Americaness" of the cowboy, the appeal of butchers and the manly steakhouse. She thinks about why Americans are drawn to eating meat and in the process she begins to enjoy salumi, steak with chimichurri and the company of a BBQ master named Biggles.
Before she gets too comfortable in her meat-eating ways she reads Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. She learns about factory farming and the politics and responsibility that come along with eating meat. But, she also finds out that two of her vegetarian idols have recently starting eating meat because they've decided that ethical meat is finally available. Those idols are Deborah Madison, the founder of Greens restaurant, one of the first upscale vegetarian restaurants in the states, and Mollie Katzen author of the The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, two of Weaver's favorites.
To decide for herself if meat-eating is the right decision for her, Weaver meets and talks meat. She spends time with butchers, farmers and she even visits a slaughterhouse. Discovering for ourselves where our food comes from is a luxury many of us just don't have the time for. But the knowledge that Weaver picks up along the way we can all use.
To eat meat, or not to eat meat the correct answer does not suddenly illuminate itself. This is, after all a complicated issue. You may end up feeling elated or disappointed with Weaver's ultimate diet decision, but her decision is based on knowledge and on her own health. There are lessons in this book you'll be proud to take with you and serve up at your next meal. When it comes to all that fighting that vegetarians and carnivores get into Weaver has this advice, "Food is a funny thing; it can bring us together, but it can divide us as well -- vegetarian, carnivore, vegan. I'm not trying to get stuck at the bottom of that chasm. Sharing meals is important to me. ... Regardless of what we eat, we should all be able to eat together."
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