The Ethics of Eating

by Fran Withrow


For many years I followed a mostly vegetarian diet, until I began to eat low carb. Incorporating meat back into my diet troubled me, especially since I live with two dedicated vegetarians. How could I ethically eat something that was once living and breathing, that could look me in the eye? That could think?


Just the simple act of eating provoked a moral quandary for me.


When I heard about Camas Davis’ book, “Killing It: An Education,” I was eager to learn more. Perhaps this book would help me with my own ethical dilemma.


Davis is a former magazine editor who traveled to France to study whole-animal butchery. She ended up on a farm in Gascony, where she learned how to cut up a pig, to use all parts of the animal, wasting nothing. The Chapolard family farm where she worked makes use of the hog’s head, skin, even the blood and trotters. They treat their animals with respect and sell everything they prepare within 15 miles of their farm.


Davis describes the slaughter of pigs and how she learned to butcher meat. But she goes beyond the basics and into the heart of the modern meat-eater’s predicament: in today’s society, we have distanced ourselves from the killing and preparation of our food. Often, what we buy in the store doesn’t even look much like the animal it came from. Davis became increasingly convinced that a stronger link between living animals and the meat on our plate is the way to eat creatures ethically. Only by becoming more connected to the process can we consume meat responsibly, raise animals with compassion, and slaughter them humanely.


Upon returning home to Oregon, Davis decided to start the Portland Meat Collective, which offers classes in how to slaughter, butcher, and use every part of an animal. For her, this was the first step toward raising awareness about how a rib roast or tenderloin lands in front of us.


Davis does not make light of our decision to eat meat. She acknowledges that slaughter is difficult to watch. One farmer told Davis that the day slaughtering a pig no longer feels “a little horrific” would be the day he would no longer eat pigs.


Eating meat or going vegetarian can be a sensitive, polarizing topic.  Davis faced this head on in 2012 when animal rights activists stole some rabbits destined for the cooking pot. Davis also faced backlash when she taught a class for high school students, showing them how meat gets on the table and inviting them to think beyond store-bought hamburgers and hot dogs.


I struggled with my own dilemma as I read. Should I only eat meat if I am willing to be a part of the process of transforming it? This book would seem to say yes to that question.




Davis has produced a well-written, thoughtful peek inside the world of slaughterhouses and butchery. If you are questioning the ethics of meat eating, this book may help you think more critically and compassionately about the animals we love, or love to eat.




“Killing It: An Education”

by Camas Davis


Penguin Press

352 pages

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North of the James, is an award-winning general interest publication with a regional focus that has been serving the region for over 20 years. North of the James presents business profiles, book and restaurant reviews, a calendar of events, and much more

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