Although this blog is called BookLoverCook, there has been much more cooking than book-loving going on in my posts so far. I figure it’s time to change that since reading holds a place in my heart that is equal to (if not dearer than) cooking. So, I’m going to start sharing some of my favorite food-related books with you. Yes, I love LOTS of other types of books too, but we’re working with a theme here, people.
Each time I do one of these cook-ish-book-ish posts I will tell you about one specific book, but you can also follow my reading and wish-I-were-reading activities on GoodReads by either viewing my entire profile or checking out my bookshelf dedicated to books for food-lovers. And as soon as WordPress gets its s*&^ together and offers the capability, I will also include a little widget for my food-lovers bookshelf from the sidebar of the site. Yay reading!
The book I want to tell you about today is called The Butcher and the Vegetarian by one of my favorite bloggers, Tara Austen Weaver of the blog Tea & Cookies. Tara also happens to live in Seattle and has often inspired me with a well-timed blog post or tweet about our fair but rainy city. I had been meaning to read this book for a while – ever since I first discovered Tara and her wonderful blog – and I was finally able to do it recently over my Spring Break.
It may not surprise you to hear that I like books that have to do with food, eating, and what food we choose to eat. 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. Tara also recently published a new book called Tales from High Mountain: Stories and Recipes from a Life in Japan, which is currently making its way up my to-read list.
If you have any suggestions of your own for food-related books you think I should read, please let me know in the comments!