Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review: The Butcher and the Vegetarian by Tara Austen Weaver

The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman's Romp Through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis 

Note: I'm writing this post on Wednesday but trying out pre-writing and scheduling-to-post because Thursday is Rosh Hashanah and I'd like to try to take the day off from Internetting/blogging/being ridiculous.

I can't remember where I heard about the Butcher and the Vegetarian, appropriately subtitled "One Woman's Romp Through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis," by Tara Austen Weaver. Somewhere along the way, I was told of it or saw it somewhere or read a review of it and I jotted it down in my list of to-read books. And then I apparently forgot about it. A few weeks ago I requested it from the library, and when it came in, I picked it up, and then I left it at the top of our entryway stairs for two weeks. And then when I went online to renew it, I couldn't because someone else had requested it, so I forced myself to start it up.

A small digression: a few months ago, I grew weary of the local library system not having the books I want to read. At all. I'd go online and search and stump the system time and time again. So I checked out another county's system online and found that I COULD NOT stump the system. I tried with 20 books on my to-read list and the library had them all. Happily, we venture to that county on a regular basis, and there was a library branch near some stores/restaurants we frequent (the whole reasoning behind our travels is probably another blog post...). So I paid $30 for a year's worth of access to that library system and now I am overwhelmed with BILLIONS OF BOOKS TO READ, not even counting the TRILLIONS of books I own and/or purchase on a regular basis. And you know what? The Butcher and the Vegetarian actually came from my local library - but I have so many books in my to-read pile right now that I nearly returned this one unread. I'm glad I didn't.

So I figured, since I didn't remember a thing about this book, that based on the title and cover, it was probably a light romantic memoir about a vegetarian who fell in love with a butcher and the wacky hijinx that ensued and he cooks a steak and she cooks tofu and they live happily ever after. I could not have been more incorrect.

This is a book about a semi-vegetarian (Weaver was raised vegetarian but has eaten meat in varying amounts for much of her life, though never to the extreme she explores in her book) who embarks on learning about meat - whether it will make her feel better, since she feels tired all the time; how to cook it; how animals are raised for and slaughtered for meat consumption; what it means to eat sustainably; what it means to go to a restaurant and order bacon; oh and bacon bacon bacon. She eats meat, she doesn't eat meat, she eats only certain kinds of meat, she eats all kinds of meat, she questions eating meat. Plus, it's also a deeply personal story about Weaver's life that goes beyond just talking about food and into talking about body image, history, trauma, and triumph. Trigger warning, she does reference sexual assault in a few places.

I love to read food writing - Steingarten (all-time fave), Bourdain (oh man, he hates us vegetarians doesn't he? ha!), Reichl (memoir and food and writing!), the Best Food Writing collections, etc. Lately I've been delving into the stream of books about eating locally, consciously, and thoughtfully - Pollan, Kingsolver, Foer (Eating Animals made a HUGE impression on me), and several others. This book fits right in there - and it's personal, never preachy. It gives you information but lets you draw your own conclusions just as Weaver has drawn hers. And it has a rather surprising ending that essentially says that you have to do what's best for you and your body.

I loved feeling like Weaver was talking to me and not at me. I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian, and I have been since college, so it's been nearly 20 years. I have on occasion eaten things in restaurants that probably have an animal component, like miso soup (which usually has bonito flakes) or rice (chicken stock), and I've had some accidental "I bit into this and ate half of it and oh crap, the sauce had meat in it, ew" moments, but I haven't actively chosen to eat fish nor fowl nor any other "meat" in all these years. That said, I have always left open the option to change my mind on how I eat. Books like the Omnivore's Dilemma and the Butcher and the Vegetarian have shown me that if I wanted to, I could add meat into my diet in a thoughtful way. I don't believe everyone is going to become vegetarian (nor do I necessarily believe that's the right answer anyway), so I like learning about how people can eat an omnivorous diet that doesn't necessarily rely on factory farms and feedlots and the rest.

In a nutshell, I loved this book. I read constantly but my time is limited; it's rare that I am excited enough about a book to turn off the other distractions in my life and read for an hour straight, but I did with this one. I liked that she'd give me a moment of "that meat dish really sounds delicious" followed by information a few pages later that made me question that thought. (I suppose someday I will have to break down and taste bacon on a grill...) Check it out, whether you're vegetarian or a committed steak lover or anywhere in between.

[Hey there! If you came from BlogHer, I'd love it if you'd stick around for a bit. Read my intro post, poke around, hang out. Thanks! Oh and my name is MarLa, not Maria - just so you know. ;) ]

1 comment:

  1. OOOOH, i can't wait. just put it in my library queue. i'm 9th. shouldn't be too horribly long, except it seems as though there are only 2 copies. thanks for this!