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Book Reviews

Carnivore Chic: From Pasture to Plate, a Search for the Perfect Meat, Susan Bourette, Penguin Canada, 2008, 288 pages

  • Erin Hershberg

Corps de l’article

Susan Bourette’s Carnivore Chic offers a fastidious exploration of meat eaters, hunters, producers, lovers, slaughterers, and sellers across North America. But the true value of this non-fiction bloodlust lies not so much in its treasure trove of fodder facts–which the book undoubtedly provides–but in Bourette’s self-effacing honesty. Thankfully, she does not offer up a pedantic, hippyish how-to guide on the ways in which the reader might eat meat ethically. For Bourette unabashedly acknowledges her unshakeable desire for anything from the grubbiest hamburger to the juicy drippings of the finest quality Kobe beef–a desire that, much to her chagrin, cannot be sated by any Yves product or vegetable under the sun. Bourette’s guilty meat-eater’s conscience, however, does not prevent her from supplying all the sanguine details of the appalling animal massacre associated with the mass-production of meat, nor does it attempt to glorify the history of the carnivore. Instead Carnivore Chic impels the reader to acknowledge the wholeness of the part, or piece, or bite of the thing we far too often eat without thought, and through her book, Bourette, a Toronto-based investigative journalist, aims to stop the commercial meat industry from “depending on [the consumer’s] ignorance” (193). In other words, if Lady Macbeth believes she might finally wash her hands by reading this book, she is sadly mistaken.

Bourette might paint a bloody enough picture of the corporate meat industry but she does not pine for the days when pallid hippies–those titans of tofu–roamed the streets smoking “sweetgrass” and stuffing themselves with lentil stew. Bourette’s book opens with a humorous and interesting look at the ways in which coolness has traveled icily away from the vegetarian hippy and landed, however itinerantly, on today’s flesh-eating hipsters, (ahem) organic-flesh-eating hipsters. This take on counter-counter-culture, Bourette charmingly discloses, represents more than a hint of self-loathing. She composes a slightly perturbing sketch of this new-fangled fascia-nista, for whom “meat is the new black” (xiv).

With a soupçon of shame, Bourette embraces her primordial right to eat meat. But this discomfort with her need for blood-feed is less interesting than her subtle and shrewd justification for it. Bourette might not be fighting the good fight for animal rights in this piece of non-fiction, but with a little sinew searching, she translates her love of meat into an argument for women’s rights. Throughout the book, Bourette challenges the trope of meat consumption, with its historical link to hunting, as a pastime still largely associated with males. She observes that historically, “[b]eefsteak wasn’t just food; it was an event for which men gathered, unfettered by the niceties of polite society, such as knives, forks and genteel manners” (145). But breaking down the brawny barriers between men’s and women’s roles pertaining to meat culture–“neutering the beefsteak” (145), as it were–constitutes a major portion of this book’s raison d’être. Bourette’s first and perhaps most interesting piece of traditional, cultural cross-dressing happens on her intrepid voyage to the arctic. The description of her journey with the Inupiat whalers in “Off the Eaten Track,” arguably the strongest chapter of the book, is not exactly Moby Dick. But then again, how could it be? There were no women on that epic expedition. The mere fact that Bourette made it onto the sadly fruitless whaling boat is a small step for womankind, for in so doing “she breaks with an age old tradition that forbids women to participate directly in the whale hunt [for fear that] women’s moon cycles can weaken the strength of the hunter’s oars” (59).

If nothing else is to be said for this toure de viande, one thing is certain: if “all good food is rooted in time, place, and culture” (187) then Susan Bourette, having travelled to the hog plants of rural Manitoba, the idyllic farmland of upstate New York, and the frigid wasteland of the arctic, has earned her mouthwatering meat. By the end of her book, Bourette has proven herself no “victim” of the industrial “food economy,” for she has seen firsthand the “connections between eating and the land” (192). From Louisiana to the Arctic with a sensitive heart and a strong stomach, Bourette, however tormented, respectfully and ethically finds her place in the natural inevitability known as the food chain. Bourette slaughters pigs, butchers chickens, hunts deer, belts down blubber, stuffs intestine, and fills herself with raw flesh, all for the sake of wearing her Carnivore Chic with pride.

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