Realistic Bites

Compassionate Carnivore writer promotes practical meat-eating

Abi Zimmer |

It’s tough love, torn between the sweet brown eyes of Bessie the cow shipped off to be systematically chopped and packaged at a slaughterhouse and the delectable appeal of Mom’s homemade meatballs. We feel guilty and slink by the meat at the grocery store, furtively slipping two pounds ground beef into the cart, but licking our lips in anticipation.

This inner conflict is what author Catherine Friend explores in her new book, The Compassionate Carnivore: Or, How to Keep Animals Happy, Save Old MacDonald’s Farm, Reduce Your Hoofprint, and Still Eat Meat, released May 1.

Far from being an anti-meat fanatic, Friend acknowledges her love of meat and the animals she raises. Her book is a reconciliation between the two and offers practical insights on becoming a critical meat consumer. She admits that this choice may cost more in money and time (avoiding convenience food by donning an apron does mean you see the inside of a kitchen once in awhile), but writes that “becoming a conscientious carnivore is about building relationships, not about finding the cheapest steak raised on grass.” In the end, people and the animals we eat can both lead healthier lifestyles.

Friend, who spent a large chunk of her childhood in Eau Claire, now lives in rural Minnesota where she and her partner run a small farm, raising sheep. A couple years ago, when Friend published her memoir, Hit the Farm, about a city girl going to the country and meeting her food face to face, people responded strongly. “They were fascinated, amazed, horrified,” Friend says. “So many people have little to no contact with farms. I wanted to bring them to my farm.”

Through running a farm, she has learned that each of her animals has particular likes and dislikes, and should be treated individually, not “by the pound.” In The Compassionate Carnivore, Friend uses the image of a baby bird tossing its head back as it blindly accepts processed food from its parents to illustrate our eating habits. People’s guilt about animal treatment on commercial farms and in meat packing plants and their enjoyment of meat has been made controversial. “It’s created an aura of silence around this whole issue,” says Friend. 

She doesn’t suggest we all start farms or we all refuse to eat, but she does propose that we become more critical of the food we consume and pay attention to where it comes from. One way to start is to dialogue with local farmers about how they raise their animals. Her goal, she says, is to get people close to the topic – the actual farmers and meat consumers – talking together about the quality of animal life.

“I don’t write a book unless I’m going to learn something from it,” says Friend. The more she has learned, the more her convictions have integrated into her lifestyle. However, Friend remains realistic. “I’m tested every May during lambing,” she admits. For three weeks, when the sheep give birth, meals fall apart with their intense activity, and it seems they eat a lot of frozen food. “But I just accept it. I’m not going to beat myself up about it,” she says. She does what she can to the best of her ability, and she hopes her readers follow suit. “I can’t expect others to be hardcore about it, because I can’t even do it.”

When she does have time to cook, she makes her favorite carnivore dish. “Lamb kabobs on the grill – marinated for a little while and mmmh!”