Summary

An unlikely and provocative journey from vegan to hunter.

A meditation on the ethics and ecology of food.

A bridge across divides.

The Mindful Carnivore has earned praise from vegetarians, hunters, and non-hunting omnivores alike.

One reader said she hoped the book would help her and her devout vegetarian husband talk about her health-based decision to eat some meat. A lifelong hunter wrote to say that he wanted his vegetarian sister to read it; he was hopeful that it might help the two of them find common ground. A father expressed similar hopes for being able to talk with his daughter.

As a boy, Tovar Cerulli spent his summers fishing for trout and hunting bullfrogs. While still in high school, he began to experiment with vegetarianism. At twenty, moved by the compassionate words of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and concerned about the ecological impacts of meat, he became a vegetarian. Soon he went vegan.

Almost a decade later, having moved back to a rural community from New York City, he realized that all food has its costs. From habitat destruction to grain combines that inadvertently mince rabbits to the shooting of deer in soybean and lettuce fields, crop production is far from harmless. Even in their own organic garden, he and his wife were battling ravenous insects and fence-defying woodchucks. He began to see that the question wasn’t what he ate but how that food came to his plate.

A few years later, his doctor (a naturopath) and his wife—who was studying holistic health and nutrition—suggested a shift in diet. His health improved when he started eating dairy and eggs. It improved still more when he started eating chicken and fish.

Searching for ethical, ecologically responsible ways to come to terms with his food, he began to contemplate the unthinkable: hunting. Two years later, he took up a deer rifle.

In this deeply personal narrative, Cerulli explores our nutritional connections with the larger-than-human world. From a fateful encounter with a brook trout to a rekindled relationship with the only hunter in his family, he traces the evolution of his dietary philosophy. Contemplating vegetable gardens, farm fields, and deer woods with intellectual and emotional candor, he explores our most elemental relationship with nature: food.

Cerulli’s tale brings nuance to conversations often dominated by black-and-white thinking. He sets contemporary debates in context by looking back over centuries of history, delving into our changing natural and cultural landscapes, and examining the shifting meanings of vegetarianism and hunting. In place of moral certainties, he offers questions.

Can hunters and vegetarians be motivated by similar values and instincts? In this time of intensifying concern over ecological degradation and animal welfare, how do we make peace with the fact that, even in growing organic vegetables, life is sustained by death?

At once compassionate and probing, The Mindful Carnivore invites us to reconsider what it means to eat.

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