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I read The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend, thanks to my local public library.

As you probably have guessed, the book is an advertisement for small farms. It vilifies factory farming, and oddly fetishizes smaller farmers and their practices. The author is strangely proud of what she does, and she believes that if you really care about animals you’ll continue to have them slaughtered for you. And she uses Gandhi to back her up on that, which I’ll get to in a moment. (And also quotes Nina Planck, whose endorsement is on the book’s back cover, which is just about all you need to know.)

Because I read a copy from the library, I couldn’t mark the book up. Plus, I read it over time in random places where I didn’t have a notepad. I did go searching for a couple of quotes so as not to entirely speak for the author. Most disturbingly, I am not misrepresenting her.

The way Friend and her partner, Melissa, create and raise animals for slaughter (which they don’t do themselves and Friend admits to never having witnessed) probably involves less suffering of certain kinds than the animals would experience in a factory farm. But none of what she does is necessary, as she doesn’t need to produce or kill animals. She does it because she wants to eat the animals, and she says that plainly throughout the book.

Here’s the problem for me: I don’t buy her abbreviated, incomplete version of "compassion." She thinks her definition is merely different from, say, mine, and that I’m "absolutist" about compassion, insisting that captivity, betrayal and slaughter–all for the taste of the flesh of another–can indeed be called compassion. And I think that’s ridiculous.

Friend’s obsession with the flesh of sentient nonhumans largely drives the book. which includes a chapter on how certain practices–or even how extreme stress–affects the taste of the flesh.

I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone the entire time I read the book. Friend has moments when she appears to care about the animals. But they come across as creepy. She knows, from personal experience as well as from research, that animals think and feel and have personalities (although she will always say we’re more intelligent and, well, worthy of living). Yet she shoves any glimmer of true compassion aside for this other notion she calls compassion, which is basically a mechanism to help her feel better and advance her agenda.

Friend doesn’t spend too much time on guilt, though there are moments. She almost always refers to animals as "meat" and "it," though sometimes when she describes an individual or a situation, she breaks with her refusal to acknowledge their individuality with a "he" or a "she." What she does spend time on is explaining all of the sacrifices and the inconvenience and the expenses and the time she gives her philanthropic work (i.e., keep animals for slaughter). She believes she is giving: to the environment, to the animals and to people.

It’s all rather twisted.

And she’s read some material by "animal rights activists" and objects because she’s not convinced that not eating animals is better for your health or the environment, and because she doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to eat.

Friend writes of how different it makes you when you choose "humanely-raised meat" and how difficult it is to make such an enormous ethical decision in your life. So enormous that you shouldn’t go too fast. She recommends against trying to switch from factory-farmed animals to happy meat (and she does call it that) in a short time, such as a year (!), as then it might be just a fad. Even after a 200+ page book, the author still gets about half of her dead animal parts from factory farms. Talk about slow food!

If she were as concerned as she insists she is, she would have stopped buy animal parts from factory farm as soon as she found out what was occurring, don’t you think? She makes such a convincing case against them, yet continues to give them her business?

Finally, some quotes:

  • "When I first ate a meal from one of our lambs, I thought I’d be upset, since it’d been so hard to take them to the abbattoir. But instead of being sad or upset at the lamb chop on my plate, I was overcome with gratitude. It wasn’t the sort of gratitude you feel when someone sacrifices something for you, since the animal I was eating had made no such choice; I’d made the choice for it. But it was a gratitude that came from acknowledging I was eating the flesh of an animal, and in order for me to do that, Melissa and I had worked very hard to be sustainable and humane farmers" (252).
  • "Mahatma Gandhi warned us against the seven social sins, but these three really struck me as a compassionate carnivore:

Commerce without morality: Selling meat without any thought to whether its creation was a moral act seems wrong. For most animal rights activists, eating meat is immoral. For unconscious carnivores, eating meat has nothing to do with morality. For conscious, compassionate carnivores, how the meat is raised is the moral issue (255)."

I won’t even get into the other two: pleasure without conscience and science without humanity–use your imagination. And here’s a hint: the interpretation ends with: farming the way Friend does it is best.

  • Friend writes a four-page "Letter to My Lambs" explaining how much she’s "loved" them and that it’s been a "joy" watching them grow and she thanks them. She says "you will die quickly tomorrow. You won’t be part of a kill and disassembly line but you will be killed, one at a time" (159). She then says "honors" their role in her life (160).

But they don’t care about all of her empty words. What they care about, if I may be so bold to assume, is that she has betrayed them and is sending them to their deaths. They care about their lives; not her rationalizations. And the one thing they care about is the one thing she’s not interested in.

I’ll end with what hit me like a ton of offensive bricks:

"Some people believe the best way to help livestock animals is to stop eating them altogether. Yet despite the deeply felt and admirable sentiments behind these calls to vegetarianism, I’ve always wondered whether the act of becoming a vegetarian or vegan has any positive impact on the lives of animals. Instead, I believe that remaining ‘at the table,’ if you will, is more effective than walking away, and as it turns out, the numbers have proved me right" (247).

The logic is: The more people who go vegan, the more animals suffer, as there’s no one at the table fighting for them and factory farms win. The people who refuse to stop killing animals unnecessarily are the ones helping animals the most.

If you want to reduce the suffering of sentient nonhumans, there’s a guaranteed way: stop using them completely, so no more are created in your name, and get as many people as possible to do the same. This book is heavy on defense, rationalization and creepiness, and light on compassion and follow through.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joseph #

    Friend never witnessed a "food animal" being murdered? WTF?!

    "And she's read some material by "animal rights activists" and objects because she's not convinced that not eating animals is better for your health or the environment, and because she doesn't want anyone to tell her what to eat."

    I wonder what she says in response to a question about forcing a rapist not to rape or forcing a murderer not to murder. After all, those two are "natural" as well. Hhhmm…

    September 24, 2008
  2. Nick #

    I am overwhelmed by frustration and despair.

    September 24, 2008
  3. Bea Elliott #

    Mary… I give you lots of credit for the fortitude of finishing such a book. "Know thy enemy" – I get it.

    I didn't think it would be much more than desperate and predictable rationalizations. The whole happy meat culture savors the guilt-free myths as often as they can.

    So Friend hasn't witnessed a slaughter??? It seems like it would be required initiation into their "compassionate" club. Instead, she writes a love letter to her lambs before sending them to their death(?). How sick!

    But then what do I know, I'm just "betraying" all the animals by going veg – what a crock of hooey!

    September 24, 2008
  4. Angus #

    Gandhi was against people killing animals for food. (He even said he would allow himself to be killed by a tiger or a snake, rather than kill the animal to save himself, though he did not insist others follow his example in such an extreme case.) He wanted a system in India that would enable cattle to be used for milk, dung, and work in the fields, but would have them well cared for until the end of their natural lives; after they died, their hides could be made into leather. If Catherine Friend (friend to whom?) calls on Gandhi to back her up, I don't think he's going to answer unless she's prepared to radically alter the way she uses animals.

    Here's Joy Williams, from her essay "The Animal People":

    "If animals did have voices, and they could speak with the tongues of angels — at the very least with the tongues of angels — they would be unable to save themselves from us. What good would language do? Their mysterious otherness has not saved them, nor have their beautiful songs and coats and skins and shells and eyes. We discover the remarkable intelligence of the whale, the wolf, the elephant — it does not save them, nor does our awareness of the complexity of their lives. Their strength, their skills, their swiftness, the beauty of their flights. It matters not, it seems, whether they are large or small, proud or shy, docile or fierce, wild or domesticated, whether they nurse their young or brood patiently on eggs. … We learn more and more about them, and that has not saved them. We know that when they face Death, they fear it. We know that they care for their young and teach them, that they play and grieve, that they have memories and a sense of the future, for which they sometimes plan. We know about their habits, their migrations, that they have a sense of Home, of finding, seeking, returning to Home. We know these things, and it has not saved them. We know where they live on this planet, and nine times out of ten we will go there and …rout…them…out. Nothing that is animal, that is not us, cannot be slaughtered as a pest or sucked dry as a memento or reduced to a trophy or rendered into a product or eaten, eaten, eaten."

    September 24, 2008
  5. the Grimm Brothers #

    "The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her."

    — excerpt from Hansel and Gretel

    September 24, 2008
  6. red dog #

    Well said, Mary. And well said, Grimm Brothers.

    September 25, 2008
  7. Bea Elliott #

    It is a dire situation the animals are in… They are wanted too little and need to be controlled, relocated, de-populated and exterminated. Or they are wanted too much and need to be controlled, warehoused, bred and slaughtered. Either way, it always seems they lose.

    September 25, 2008
  8. Tom P #

    Wow. That last quote is unbelievable…

    September 25, 2008
  9. Dan #

    Heh, yeah, that last quote is an amazing statement of delusion. It’s as if someone said with a straight face and in all sincerity:

    “Some people say that the best way to refrain from violence is to refrain from violence, but I’m here to testify that it’s just not true. The best way to refrain from violence is to actively engage in violence, and logic and “the numbers” back me up on that.”

    September 25, 2008
  10. Bea Elliott #

    The Miami Herald has a little piece about Friend – nothing we don't already know… Friend still "loves" the animals. She broke away from her busy "lambing season" for this interview:

    Fortunately, I didn't waste much time in Friend's world of confused double speak but turn my attention instead to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's latest podcast "Shearing of Sheep":

    If I were a lamb… I know who I'd want to "love" me.

    September 26, 2008
  11. AJL #

    The reviews at Amazon and other stores are overwhelmingly positive; would those of you willing to read the book post your reviews?
    I'm currently boycotting Amazon due to their continued promotion of animal-fighting videos and magazines, but posting a negative comment might reach some people who would otherwise buy this book.

    September 26, 2008
  12. AJL- I posted a review on Amazon. There are 3 other negative reviews.

    September 26, 2008
  13. Patricia #

    I would not have been able to read that book…Thank you for doing it. I don't understand her definition of 'love'….I don't kill those who I love.

    April 29, 2009
  14. I'm disgusted by the idea that she wrote a love letter to her lambs before sending them to slaughter. As if they care. If her conscience does speak to her, then she shouldn't kill them in the first place. Our hearts tell us that killing is wrong, pressure from society tells us to ignore it. It takes a lot of strength to remove yourself from the cycle of death, it only takes cowardice to write a letter.

    June 22, 2009

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