The Butcher and the Vegetarian—by Tara Austen Weaver
In The Butcher and the Vegetarian, Tara Austen Weaver searches for answers to her health problems and severe fatigue. When told by her acupuncturist to steep some medicinal herbs in chicken broth, Weaver finds herself at a pivotal moment. She was raised a vegetarian, and while she acknowledges frequently eating meat in restaurants and friend’s homes, she has never bought or cooked it for herself. The book chronicles her exploration of butcher shops, farmers markets, ranches, backyard grills, and learning to cook meat in her own kitchen.
It is enjoyable to follow along as Weaver proceeds from the seemingly straightforward question of “should I or shouldn’t I,” to ever more complex questions that are inherent in thoughtful meat eating. How much is too much? How should it be cooked? Where does the meat come from? Is it possible to be an ethical carnivore?
This book really is a story, a memoir—not a rant or an academic discussion of meat as food. The tone is personal, light and never preachy, just like Weaver’s food blog, Tea & Cookies–even when dealing with serious issues. Weaver introduces a colorful cast of characters, including butchers, cowboys, and my personal favorite Biggles, a joyous Meat Master.
The Butcher and the Vegetarian was especially interesting to me as I have been on nearly the opposite trajectory in the last few years—eating less and less meat, as I have become increasingly committed to only buying humanely raised animal products. Weaver’s experimentation with how to fit meat into her familiar vegetarian meals mirrors my own process of expanding my repertoire to include more plant-based recipes.
Weaver also addressed the social implications of what we choose to eat (or not eat). It can be difficult to balance our own preferred way of eating against the desire to fit in, to be included, to not annoy or alienate our loved ones. What really stuck with me was her heartfelt plea for mutual understanding at the end of the book:
“My friends may not understand, but I know they want the best for me. I’m hoping they’ll still invite me to the party, and let me make my own choices about what I do and do not eat.
Food is a funny thing; it can bring us together, but it can divide us as well—vegetarian, carnivore, vegan. I’m trying not to get stuck at the bottom of that chasm. Sharing meals is important to me. As a child raised at a dining table that was lonely, the act of sitting together to eat feels sacred. This is how I create my community; this is how I care for those I love. Regardless of what we eat, we should all be able to eat together.”