There have been times I have worried about kangaroos left dead on the side of the road, unmourned and unmemorialised.
I have wondered what my dog makes of the domestic apartheid when he sees me eating bacon and eggs while he eats kibble (he is a dog bred originally to hunt wild boar).
I have fretted over TV footage of animals left to expire in overcrowded live export ships, turning away so as not to watch it. But I have continued, as I was raised, to cook and eat meat.
Matthew Evans clarifies issues for me. Among them, my suspicion of the virtue-signalling that accompanies veganism, and the wilful ignorance of buying cheap meat in the supermarket. His book presents me with the reality; the pampered powerlessness that belongs to the first world consumer in the 21st century.
My grandparents lived closer to subsistence; growing vegetables out the back, eating a lamb leg at Sunday lunch and making do on some days with bread and dripping. My father knew how to kill and pluck a chook, and how to make a meal from offal cuts without the benefit of Ottolenghi.
His mother had not tasted things that didn't grow outside the south west corner of Australia, except for tea and pepper - things like fresh coriander, papaya and rose harissa had not entered her diet.
But Matthew Evans, aka the Gourmet Farmer, makes it clear that we cannot return to that nostalgic place even when we set to growing our own food on our own small farm as he has. Doing this boutique food production in a land of agribusiness is a very different gesture, and likely too big for many of us.
The take-out message from his book is that it is possible nevertheless to seek out better responses in the modern food economy. He urges us to become conscious of our compromises and to choose them, rather than to allow them to be made for us as somebody else's plan for profitability.
He points out that trying for a world where 'nothing dies in order that we might eat' is naive, and probably culpably so, in our internet information era. To grow a crop, even an organic crop, is to supplant a native ecology and displace animals and plants that would live there otherwise. To tend any crop involves killing pests, from possums to locusts. The brutal reality of nature has always included predation.
Today we are taxed by a privileged position; we can choose better outcomes for our food and still emerge nourished both physically and culturally. Evans is frustrated that ethical eating is a space largely conceded to vegetarian and vegan groups at present, and tangled in separate questions of animal rights along with agrarian fantasies.
There is so much information now on what affects global food production, including on climate change, on poverty reduction and on sustaining increased populations. Evans wants meat eaters to enter the debate and not put this in the too-hard basket, leaving it to agricultural economists, scientists and zealots.
I found myself pushed to think again; to research the provenance of the meat I buy, avoiding factory-farmed poultry and the grain 'finishing' in feedlots of animals that are destined for the table.
I welcomed his spelling out the five principles of ethical animal husbandry, including that animals we raise should have at least enough space to express instinctual behaviour.
Some aspects of agribusiness models are confronting. The practice of sow-stalling, where mother pigs birth and feed their litters in stalls no larger than their own prone bodies, along with the notion that cattle in feedlots in northern Australia don't need shade, are an indictable corruption of 'mass production' thinking, an almost diabolical negating of respect for what is sacrificed to an omnivorous diet.
Something about these commercial gestures seem to encapsulate the worst of large-scale production of commodities generally, and contaminate our lives with a complicity that is peculiarly depressing.
So Matthew Evans urges us to be active realists in pursuit of compromises we can live with, taking account of the real world of price points, family budgets and information withheld.
He also urges us to use what purchasing power we have as leverage to get agribusiness to lift its game - to abandon practices that rob the animal and the consumer of dignity, and to make more transparent the decisions taken on our behalf out of sight.
There is no 'farm gate' in the picturesque sense imagined in advertisements, just as furry animals and cat videos are not a sound basis for adult ethical reflection.
Matthew Evans deserves to be commended for putting these issues in plain language and for providing information for decisions that we can make to become more ethical consumers of all our food.
- On Eating Meat: the truth about its production and the ethics of eating it. Matthew Evans. Murdoch Books. $32.99
- Robyn Ferrell is a Canberra writer and academic