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Meet "The Compassionate Carnivore" author, Catherine Friend

by Natalie Rotunda

Article from

Catherine Friend is both an unashamed carnivore, and a humane sheep farmer. In her book, “The Compassionate Carnivore, or, How to Keep Animals Happy, Save Old MacDonald’s Farm, Reduce Your Hoofprint, and Still Eat Meat,” from her vantage point, she writes a warm, often funny, always honest view from both sides of the meat-eating issue. Readers, both the meat-lovers among us, and the vegetarians, will be treated to a ‘behind the scenes’ look at how one person can both love animals and, simultaneously, love to eat their meat. The book ends on page 259. By then, readers will certainly have made up their minds to pursue their love for meat more consciously, or to continue as vegetarians. The author is okay with either choice since it’s her intent to inform, not sway her readers in either direction.

At present, when she’s not on pasture duty, Catherine is deep into revisions on a sequel to “Hit by a Farm,” and a new children’s novel due out next year. “Barn Boot Blues” is the story of a 12-year-old whose parents want to be armchair farmers.

After she talked with me late this week, Catherine had to mow the lawn before it was time for her to prepare the evening meal.

Catherine, thanks for taking time to talk with me today. I have to say that I loved “The Compassionate Carnivore.” I’m curious about the chapter titled, ‘A Seat at the Table.’

Your impression of what you call “the whole meat scene” is of a long conference table, which is taken up mostly with big factory farm corporations, and their consumers. A tiny place at the end of the table is where you and other sustainable farmers, organic farmers and the small conventional farmers are holding onto your seats for dear life. Seated with you are your consumers, people who are loyal to what you’re doing for us, people who vote with their dollars, not necessarily with loud voices. The point is, as long as those on your end of the table stay seated, your businesses have a chance to survive. The chapter seemed to be the climax of everything you’d written to that point. Was that your intent?

It was a key point of the book. I had to build my case. Vegetarians who are well-meaning think that if you’re not eating an animal, you’re helping it, but they’re not helping it because you’re not voting with your dollar.

The factory farms are efficient in their operations, but they're not at all sustainable. As a sustainable farmer, do you think that sustainability and efficiency in producing our food is mutually exclusive?

No, I don’t. If we use our dollars to support smaller farms that can be efficient, those farms can then grow. To do that, we have to recognize that it will cost more to buy that food. So there’s a tradeoff: Do you buy all you want of the food that is cheap, or do you buy less but pay more for food that’s good for you? I think we all eat more than we need, and that’s led to the problem. Very few cultures in history have eaten as much as we do. I think since meat is more available and so cheap, we eat more. I do the cooking here and we don’t have meat at every meal. I love meat but I don’t need it at every meal.

Do you eat out a lot?

We don’t go out to eat very often. At home, we eat a lot of eggs. We have chickens, sheep, four beef steer we bought when they were a day old. Now they’re 800 pounds! It’s awe-inspiring how big they get. They’re very friendly and come galloping up to us. We’ll butcher them in the fall and, hopefully, buy four more. A lot of farms have bull calves and have no use for them. We like rescuing calves and giving them a good life for about a year. Yes, they go to butcher, but they have had a darned good time while they are here.

Do you sell the beef?

We sell it because people eat beef more than they eat lamb. We’ve sold so much of the beef that we didn’t keep anything for ourselves so we had to buy some from a friend. Our steers are on grass from May to October, then hay. We don’t think the hay has enough of what they need, so we give them some grain, but it’s a small part of their diet.

Why did you decide to go into farming?

It was Melissa’s idea to be a farmer. I had a romantic image of a farm, where Melissa could go off playing with animals and I could sit under a tree and write. I’m really glad we did it. But a lot of things went wrong, too.

What was the hardest part of farming?

The non-stop physical labor. I did enjoy the problem-solving, though. And it took a lot to get used to raising animals and taking them to the butcher.

Has anything changed for you since “The Compassionate Carnivore” was published?

I’ve got a number of well-meaning vegetarians trying to educate me and point out the error of my ways! The book has firmed up my resolve and told me I’m on the right track. I feel really good about sharing my experience. People are paying attention and they are caring. That has been a rewarding part of the book. For 30 years, meat-eaters have not been talking to each other, talking about and learning how we can raise cattle in a better way. But they should not feel bad or ashamed to eat meat.

A lot of vegetarians have contacted me, and they totally get it. Most vegetarians I run into are supportive.


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