Book Review: The Mindful Carnivore

"Oh, in my most righteous vegan phase, I had been certain that hunting, like other forms of animal murder, was wrong."

Let me say one thing up front. If you're the sort of person who doesn't really want to think about the food you eat, don't read this book. For everyone else, The Mindful Carnivore will most likely be the most provocative book you'll read all year.

It will ask you to consider some striking ethical questions. In adopting veganism or vegetarianism, are we arrogantly setting ourselves above the predator-prey relationship? Does being vegan allow us to evade the inconvenient truth that millions of animals are killed every year via farming, even when that farming is done in the most ecologically ethical manner possible?

Is really possible for humans to think they can step outside of their place in the world's food chain? Or, is it more realistic and more honest to accept the realities of predation in our environment, and can respectful hunting for food and sustenance help humans gain a better connection to our environment?

Can hunting even be a sacred activity, an act of human humility and honor?

Tough questions. And The Mindful Carnivore asks and answers them. It's one of the most unusual and intriguing books I've ever read.

Many CK readers will recognize author Tovar Cerulli from past Friday Links posts. His blog, A Mindful Carnivore, covers subject matter that's unique in the world of food blogs: he's a former vegan who ultimately decided--in contradiction to a lifetime of certainty about its wrongness--to return to hunting.

And through hunting, he discovers an even deeper respect for animals and nature. It's a striking evolution of character, and Tovar tells his entire story in an honest and exceptionally well-written memoir.

So, let's ask the question: Is hunting fundamentally unethical? Is it sport at the expense of animals' lives?

Read this book and you'll see why hunting is neither. Ethically speaking, Tovar makes an overwhelming case that it's far superior to buying your meat shrinkwrapped at the grocery store. And more interestingly, he makes nearly as strong a case for hunting as a moral and habitat-friendly activity that, counterintuitively, protects animals. You'll have to read the book yourself to see exactly how.

This was an excellent read, and I walked away from it with a totally new and nuanced view on hunting. I give Tovar a ton of credit for writing a thought-provoking, educational, subtle, and agenda-free book. I highly, highly recommend it.

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Louisa said...


I don't think I'll ever eat meat-I've lost the ability to digest it-but the fact remains that that is our position in the food chain.

The only thing wrong with eating meat is the cruelty involved in factory farming(or, equally, irresponsible hunting).

The only thing unhealthy about meat is the vast quantities people tend to consume. Eat more veggies and you'll be fine.

Anecdotal evidence for that. My in laws are meat at three meals types. I cooked dinner for them a while, and only made meat every other day. My vegetarian dishes were in no way light or low fat. They'd been trying to lower their cholesterol for years with no progress(including taking medications for it), but that summer their bad cholesterol counts went down a bunch.

Stella said...

I agree. I also wrote a review. As a fellow former vegan, this book really struck a chord. And it was just so earnestly and beautifully written. Tovar has really done a great service to all of us who are interested in great food, nature, and compassion. Glad to see he's getting more and more attention.

Marcia said...

I grew up in the country in Western PA. My family hunts. I have been near vegetarian at times. I had a conversation with my brother once, and he said "vegetarians would probably hate me". I said "actually, I know several vegetarians who respect you a lot more for killing your own, vs. buying it at the store."

Joanne said...

Even though I don't really think I will ever eat meat again, I definitely have more respect for someone who hunts their own meat than for someone who buys mass-produced chicken or ground beef from the supermarket. Grass-fed or not. I feel similarly about spinach though. There is no way I will eat inorganic spinach knowing full well how many pesticides seep into those leaves. I like knowing where my food is coming from and in the hypothetical situation in which I HAD to eat meat again...I'd much rather it have been hunted than come from pretty much anywhere else.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I do want to read this book; it sounds like a thoughtful look at a highly charged issue. I for one am a meat eater but it's not a required element at many meals.

However, when I read the comments about 'mass produced' products I wonder if readers have thoughts on how they would provide for the 300,000,000 people in this country because let's be honest...hunting is simply not an option for the majority.

It is a simple fact that in order to provide food for the number of people in this country, foods either have to be mass produced or costs would make a lot of foods unaffordable to those masses.

Food can't be just for the privileged; I'm waiting for the folks who lament against mass production to offer a solution.

That being said; I am all for better standards and more compassionate treatment of the animals who provide our food resources.

I live in Colorado which is a state with a lot of hunting. I'm OK with it as long as it's done with the intent of using the meat that is collected; although in truth, I don't think I could kill a deer myself. In a state like ours, without hunting, the deer population would go unchecked and be a huge problem so hunting is actually a required element of wildlife population control. Trophy hunting on the other hand? Inexcusable.

Another thought provoking post and a great book suggestion..thanks!

Leslie Ann said...

Sounds a lot like the third section of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma", where he goes out and hunts wild boar and mushrooms. A very interesting book.