on February 14, 2012
This is a very readable book about the complex web of interdependence between humans and our food, whether it be animal or vegetable. Not highly editorialized, it is nevertheless a call to examine more deeply our relationship to food. Cerulli is not defending the meat industry -- throughout the book he is in agreement with the general consensus that the meat industry is highly problematic. But he points out eloquently that things are a bit more complicated than "meat bad, veggies good," and not just because of the nutritional pitfalls of plant-based diets. To simply avoid meat and reach for tofu at the grocery store is still to be out of touch with our food and everything that went into bringing it to us -- including, yes, the death of animals. Cerulli's search for a better way to stock his fridge is useful and informative, in much the same way as the documentary "No-Impact Man."
I found the book clear, insightful, and very beautifully written. The point about the complexity of the web of interdependence is well-illustrated and reenforced throughout but not heavy-handed. There's a lot of interesting information on the history of hunting and wildlife management, as well as the wide spectrum of philosophical stances and approaches found among hunters. There's definitely an element of suspense as well, whether you happen to be rooting for man or deer.
For the record, I have known the author for many years. I am not a hunter. I have been a vegetarian, and am a vegetarian sympathizer.
on February 21, 2012
Tovar's story is relatively unique in itself. To simply read about his journey of transformation to veganism and back, would have made this a good book. But the deeper look into his own relationship with food and his impacts on the natural world around him provides us with an opportunity to look a little deeper into ourselves. Best of all, he accomplishes this without preaching or self-righteous dogma.
"This is how I see it," is basically what he says. It's never, "this is how YOU should see it."
He just presents the opportunity, and the reader can hardly help but take it.
It's not a completely comfortable book, especially for the long-time hunter. Tovar tips some sacred cows in his quest to find answers, and he asks some pretty tough questions. For example, he challenges the often contorted logic that hunters need good PR, so we should be ethical and safe. Shouldn't we be ethical and safe anyway? Good PR will logically follow.
In his very thoughtful approach to the decision to kill a deer, and in the efforts that culminate in his first success, Tovar sheds a little light on the thought process that many of us long-time hunters have come to take for granted. To me, at least, it was an opportunity to look back at my own choices and decisions and take stock of where my personal ethics come into play. I think there's a lot of value in a book that makes you stop to think without telling you what you should be thinking. And this is what makes The Mindful Carnivore a great book.
on February 20, 2012
I've just finished Tovar Cerulli's newly released The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance, and I highly recommend it to just about anyone who eats and reads. No matter how you'd label yourself--hunter, nonhunter, antihunter, vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, or just an omnivore with dilemmas--this is a book worth reading. And once you've finished it, you may begin questioning those labels that once seemed so simple and clear. But apart from all the big ideas in this book, it's just a good read.
As Cerulli tells a deeply personal story of his own journey from vegan to hunter, he connects his experiences to larger themes having to do with meat, meaning, and the karmic costs of every food on his table--including the brown rice, tofu, and organic vegetables. As you'll immediately guess from the book's title and cover, Cerulli is now something of a venison evangelist. But he wasn't always. After reflecting on the compassionate words of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, he became a vegetarian at age 20. Soon, after learning more about the modern egg and dairy industries, he went completely vegan. Eventually, however, he began to have second thoughts.
"I realized," he writes in his bio for a recent panel discussion, "that all food has its costs. From habitat destruction to combines that inadvertently mince rabbits to the shooting of deer in farm fields, crop production is far from harmless. Even in our own organic garden, my wife and I were battling ravenous insects and fence-defying woodchucks. I began to see that the question wasn't what we ate but how that food came to our plates. A few years later, my wife--who was studying holistic health and nutrition--suggested that we shift our diet, and my health improved when we started eating dairy and eggs. It improved still more when we started eating chicken and fish."
Two years later, Cerulli picked up a rifle and stepped into the deer woods. When he did, he also brought with him a vegetarian's values and sensibilities. This was not a decision he made lightly, and it's one he still thinks about quite a lot. He is indeed a mindful carnivore.
As far as I know, Cerulli is also the writer who first coined a delightful neologism that appears to be sticking: the "adult-onset hunter." The term is appearing more often, and so are the hunters it describes. Cerulli is one, and I am myself. If you're one, too, then this book is definitely for you. I suspect that most of us adult-onset hunters are the kind of people who tend to think just a little too much about where our food comes from.
And even if you've been hunting all your life, you'll find fascinating the ideas that Cerulli explores in The Mindful Carnivore. Today fewer than 15% of Americans hunt, and some surveys suggest that as few as 5% of us get out in the field regularly, year after year. Hunters are definitely a tiny minority. When they find themselves feeling besieged and persecuted, they'd do well to reach for some fresher, more useful intellectual and philosophical ammunition than the usual stale, warmed-over José Ortega y Gasset they've been trotting out for the past half-century or so. They could do no better than The Mindful Carnivore. (In the book, and then later in his notes, Cerulli also mentions several other works that will be of interest to his hunting and nonhunting readers. He's been thinking about these questions a lot, and it's clear he's also been discussing and reading about them a lot.)
I hope that even a few open-minded vegans will give this book a chance. But in the end, Tovar may find a larger audience among open-minded nonhunters who are already mindful omnivores. And who knows? Once they've finished reading The Mindful Carnivore, they may come to view hunters and hunting differently. They may even come to view the meat and vegetables on their own plates differently. I hope their neighbors who do hunt will invite them over for venison, vino, and some interesting conversations about what all this means.
I have to agree with the Kirkus Reviews, which described the book as an "entertaining and erudite meditation." It's an enjoyable read that will also give you some big ideas to chew on. (Sorry.) I'm afraid other reviewers have already used this and nearly every other possible food or meat-related metaphor, leaving me only the most obvious: The Mindful Carnivore is definitely food for thought.
on November 1, 2013
Tovar Cerulli seems like a very thoughtful, articulate person and he's certainly a good writer. However, I had a bit of hard time getting through some sections. About halfway through the book, I started to find myself skimming the first sentence of each paragraph to get through some of the more anecdotal parts. And I guess it's to be expected that a Buddhist, former vegan from Vermont who describes himself as pro-feminist and even cites a number of texts written by feminist scholars, as well as Buddhist philosophers such as Thich Naht Hahn, wouldn't write from the perspective of a more stereotypical hunter--which is I guess is why I bought this book. I wanted a unique perspective.
In fact, as a male non-hunter, I bought five books on the "why" of hunting all at once, and read the two written by women, "Call of the Mild" and "Girl Hunter," first. Then I read "The Mindful Carnivore." I figured these two female authors and a male former vegan would provide a really unique, thoughtful perspective on the subject--and they did. At least Cerulli and Lily Raff McCaulou did--not so much Georgia Pellegrini. Her book was more about getting driven around on a golf cart or ATV by the billionaire owners of huge privately owned nature preserves, shooting animals that were RAISED in-house to be hunted, and then getting drunk on expensive scotch and eating gourmet food afterward (seriously?!?........stay away from "Girl Hunter" by the way).
"The Mindful Carnivore" was certainly worth reading and I'm glad I did. Knowing basically nothing about hunting, I learned quite a bit. It was just a bit too sensitive for me. At times a little out there. I have to say after having read Cerulli's book, I'm really looking forward to what I imagine will be a much more masculine perspective from Steven Rinella. I think once I finish his two books--completing the five I purchased together--I'll have a lot better idea of what it means to be a hunter, from multiple perspectives, which was the goal. I've been curious about hunting ever since I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" several years ago and I want to get away from factory farmed food--particularly animals. If you feel the same, this book is certainly worth the cost.
on February 2, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. I love reading about food and where food comes from, so this book was right up my alley. Cerulli is a careful, thoughtful writer (and eater!) and clearly cares about doing the right thing where animals and humanity is concerned. Well done.
on March 13, 2012
I've been quite fascinated by the questions about where our food comes from over the last couple of years and documentaries such as Food Inc and Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals have only added to my interest. Although I have weighed up my carnivore lifestyle numerous times over the last decade, I still keep returning to the meat counter or section. So, what would Cerulli's The Mindful Carnivore teach me about my attitudes?
I really don't know what I expected about the book but it raised some real questions that I had never expected to address. Cerulli spends a lot of time considering hunting: hunting for food, hunting for sport. I have never hunted - I have no desire to hunt - but I'm aware of the hypocrisy I would present if I looked down on anyone who hunted for food. Surely it shows more respect for the produce you eat than a schlep to the meat counter does?
Cerulli interweaves this tale of his personal history with food and, specifically, meat with factual information, personal anecdotes, quotations from various sources both pro and anti-hunting and both for and against vegetarianism.
All in all, this is a very very well-constructed book but neither aims to preach nor to condemn but simply to detail one man's quest for answers about this particular and what he has discovered on the journey. At times touching, at other times disturbing, this is an incredibly emotive book, yet still manages to keep a tight hold of the facts.
**I received a copy of this title in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation. All views are my own.**
on March 5, 2012
Tovar Cerulli writes with deep introspection regarding his own relationship with what he eats as well as environment which he lives. He writes with humor and humility. He weaves his own autobiographical account with its historical, social, and environmental context. By following his narrative from a boy who fishes for food, to a vegan who grows organic vegetables, to a hunter who kills with great ambivalence, the reader will learn about the history and ethics of vegetarianism, agriculture, and hunting in America.
on February 20, 2012
I started reading this and could not put it down. To say that it is about hunting is so very limiting. This is an intimate look at how we can choose to be in this world - the choices we make and the emotional responses we have to those choices. It takes the reader from the edge of disturbing to the relief of laughter with extremely private insights all along the way.
on April 21, 2012
The author is an acquaintance of mine, but that's for the purpose of 'full disclosure' and not a bid at my share of his fame. I had been looking forward to this book as I knew about it for almost a year before it was published. I have spend a good deal of my professional life researching the reasons people in the United States hunt and this added a good deal if information about the small sub-set of hunters who begin hunting when they are adults. The majority of US hunters learn to hunt in the family while young. Hunting, in general, in the US is declining both as a percentage of the population and in total number of hunters. The author makes a good case for people thinking seriously about the food they eat and the ethical and dietary reasons to consider wild game as part of a responsible diet.
I do not expect this book will cause a huge increase in adults starting to hunt, but it should be carefully read by anyone considering it. I have not actively hunted in about 15 years due to to many issues. However I do make an effort to select the meat in my diet carefully and with ecological and ethical concern.
I can recommend this book to anyone interested in the food they eat and the impacts their choices make.
on January 13, 2014
I think that everyone should read this book. As a female hunter is Alaska, I have had many of the same struggles: I have no tradition to give thanks, and I lament the loss of life but understand it is a web of predictor prey relationships. I have tried to explain some of these concepts to tourists visiting my great state, and this book addresses the same concepts in detail with many alternatives. I found the author to be reflective without being too redundant. I liked the voice and style of this book. I really recommend this book.