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The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One…

The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman's Romp Through a World of… (2010)

by Tara Austen Weaver

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Tara is a vegetarian who is prescribed meat by her doctor. The Butcher and the Vegetarian is the story of her venture into the world of carnivores. She does not go easily - whining and moaning the whole way. Is it ethical? Is it humane? Environmentally friendly? Even as she is fighting against eating meat she is loving bacon, flank steak with chimichurri and Syrian meatballs. I did not love how she and the people in her social circle felt the need to label themselves vegetarian, carnivore, flexitarian, vegan, bacontarian...

Just eat what you want to and do not explain or apologize.

August 2013 ( )
  mlake | Apr 28, 2015 |
Despite being happily vegetarian, however, I do not like books that are sensational or too prescriptive when it comes to choosing what to eat, especially when the choice is about whether or not to eat meat. I think that choice is a personal one with no easy answer, so I don’t like authors who try to make it black and white. That is why I thoroughly enjoyed The Butcher and the Vegetarian. Reading it felt like sitting down with a cup of tea and talking with an old friend about an issue that we both care deeply about.

We learn early on that Tara has been a vegetarian since birth – a serious Northern California, 1970′s, brown rice-sprouts-no salt vegetarian. So when her doctor recommends she start eating meat for her health, it presents quite a crisis. Her ensuing quest to figure out not only what she wants to eat, but also what her body wants her to eat – what makes her feel healthy – is honest and deeply personal.

For her, this is no mere intellectual exercise, her poor health demands that she find a diet that works for her, and to do that she has to try everything, from including meat to cutting out dairy (gasp, no cheese!) to eating totally raw. In the process she attempts to understand the implications behind her dietary choices, visiting a cattle yard and a slaughterhouse among other things, and grapples with the ethical dilemmas that inevitably arise.

Such an experiment with one’s own body is not for the faint of heart and I felt, as a reader, honored that Tara was willing to give me such an intimate window into what was a sometimes emotional, sometimes confusing and frustrating, but always hopeful experience.

And luckily, the serious subject matter is balanced out by her voice as a narrator, which is approachable, conversational, and funny. I often laughed out loud while reading about her attempts to order meat in a decidedly unfriendly butcher shop, her surreptitious visit to a meat-only barbecue, and her effort to understand the appeal and mystique behind the male-dominated world of the steak house.

This book was a joy to read, even while forcing me to think differently about issues I thought I already had a pretty firm grasp on. If you are at all interested in food issues – or even if you’re not and you just love a good memoir with a narrator you really get to know – I suggest you give The Butcher and the Vegetarian a read. ( )
  booklovercook | Feb 20, 2014 |
Cliches are bad, but cliches about veg*ns are about the worst. I've heard them all. You would think, from the reactions omnivores have to veg*ns, that not eating animals is one of the most absurd, strange things that humans have thought up. Veg*ns don't get enough protein, we must be sick, we sneak bacon when nobody is looking, etc.

I guess what I find most annoying about this book is that I really don't know what to make of it. The author weaves many cliches about veg*ns into this narrative, even though she was born and raised a vegetarian and ultimately embraces a (predominantly) animal free diet. The biggest theme is that veg*ns are somehow ascetics, unwilling to enjoy food or life at the expensive of animal rights, health or the environment. It really makes me wonder if Weaver just needed some new recipes, or better veg*n friends who know how to cook.

Most grating were the statements about how eating meat is macho, manly, and how Weaver hoped to join the boy's club of steakhouses and bar-be-cues. I know it's tempting for women to emulate men, after all we're told from a young age that men are better than we are, but I think it's absurd to perpetuate the notion of gendered food. Masculinity is what you make it to be, and I know plenty of men who refrain from eating flesh, and plenty of women who eat a steak without batting an eyelash. Maybe, as Weaver mentioned, it's a west coast thing for women to feel they need to order the salad. It's certainly nothing I ever felt when I ate meat, nor something I've ever noticed being a problem for my female friends who continue to eat meat.

Ultimately, the author explores eating meat because of health issues, which is something that I completely understand. The author explores many avenues of "ethical" meat production, which I think is great for people who can afford it, but not something that will ever be sustainable on a large scale. Weaver continues to call herself a vegetarian throughout the first half of the book, something that any real vegetarian will likely bristle at. It certainly bothered me. By the end of the book she tries the "opposite" of a meat-based diet, going completely raw for a week. She finds that this increases her energy and makes her feel better, which I'm sure veg*ns reading this book will be pleased to hear (I certainly was!).

Even at the very end, Weaver mentions that "meat eaters want to savor the world," which strikes this vegan as a strange sentiment. I'm no ascetic, and as somebody who was born and raised on a flesh diet, I would rather eat a vine ripened tomato than any cured or cooked pig, any day. My dietary options enhance my life, and it's savoriness, and do absolutely nothing to diminish it. I find pleasure in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and even sweets. I wonder if Weaver actually thinks that this meat-eater-as-hedonist and vegan-as-ascetic dichotomy is true, it's just unfortunate that she perpetuates the ideas in her book for others to absorb as fact. ( )
  lemontwist | May 7, 2010 |
Rife with ethical dilemmas, The Butcher and the Vegetarian follows author Tara Austen Weaver’s struggle with eating and health. Raised on a strict, vegetarian diet she’s been happy to follow into her thirties, Tara suddenly finds meat-eating the doctor’s orders. And then multiple doctors’ orders. What to do? How to start? Weaver’s meandering tale is pure foodie flip-floppery, as she eats in ways that defy a label, trying to take her waning health in hand.

What we’re eating is a charged choice these days, ethically speaking, from winter tomatoes to organic labelling issues. It’s rare to grow up veg and not have your choices challenged by friends, relatives, and even medical personnel, though you, like me, may be a nonconfrontational person who doesn’t object to others’ carnivorism and simply prefers a face-free, guiltless diet. Weaver’s embracing approach to all the major eating groups — meat-loving to raw — sets the tone for a truly unbiased memoir of one woman’s journey to find her ideal diet, food to replenish sapped energy levels and fuel her adventurous spirit.

Weaver balances the scale between improved personal health and minimized environmental impact by thoroughly researching her food’s origins. Even if it means visiting a grass-fed beef ranching operation on slaughtering day and then downing a burger afterwards, Weaver proves it’s possible to make to make food decisions — meat or veg — that one can proudly defend.

In the end, Weaver shares a personal experience and ends with a personal choice, one she admits is far from where she began and never expected to find herself. While Weaver’s eating habits may not be my own, this is a woman I’d invite to dinner for her thoughtful, open approach to both food and friendship.

This review and more at www.christinereads.com. ( )
  cemming | Feb 10, 2010 |
While reading this book, I found myself becoming physically angry. Austen Weaver is trying to find a cause for her lack of energy in the foods that she eats, therefore, she has decided to introduce meat into her vegetarian diet, which was for me, where the true problems began. She has always been eating meat, she claims to have been raised as a vegetarian but the entire book reveals different times in her life when she has strayed from the path, I would say that she is not a vegetarian but someone who doesn't like to cook meat at home. On top of that, at the end of every chapter she was second guessing herself and trying to decide if she was becoming too barbaric by sauteing a chicken breast, but it got old quickly and any sympathy that I had vanished. ( )
  SeriousEmily | Nov 14, 2009 |
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For my mother,
who raised me with fierce morals,
unwavering belief,
and an ocean of live.

Thank you.
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My friend Christine says that butchers make the best flirts, and on this I will have to trust her.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Tara Austen Weaver's memoir is the rollicking and relevant story of her quest to reconcile a nontraditional vegetarian upbringing with the carnal desires of eating meat.

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