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The Ethical Carnivore’s Dilemma

If an environmentalist is sworn to protect nature, how can they justify eating meat? That's the burning question Nicole Walker grapples with in her writing.

Humans have always eaten meat, but in recent times some have begun to question the morality and sustainability of the practice. At the February 18, 2022 English Reading Series, essayist Nicole Walker addressed this topic as she read from her essay “Persuasion.” The essay dealt with her dream to be a vegan, detailing how she attempts to balance a sympathy for animals with how delicious they are to eat. It’s an issue Walker has dealt with frequently in her other writing: her most recent collections of essays have titles such as Processed Meats: Essays on Food, Flesh, and Navigating Disaster and Sustainability: A Love Story. “It’s pretty amazing that we can eat the pig while loving the pig,” she said. Anyone who has a lovable family pet but still dines on pork or beef might be able to relate.


As she detailed in “Persuasion,” she takes great pains to ease her inner-carnivore’s conscience: “If you are going to commit the evil of eating meat, you should at least eat it all,” she read. Her attempts to broaden her meat consumption to include all the parts of a pig—internal organs, bones, glands, even the head—help her ensure that nothing goes to waste.

However, the topic of animal consumption was just a jumping-off point for Walker to tackle bigger issues. In the question-and-answer session, she called her essay a “braided essay,” which combines personal stories with more general issues. In the case of “Persuasion,” her own experience with food set the stage for a meditation on the issue of environmentalism. Essentially, she grappled with how she could reconcile a concern for the environment with the negative impact she has on it. It is a complex and sometimes uncomfortable dilemma, but such are the dilemmas that humans face.

Sometimes these dilemmas mean we have to temper our approach to life. “I have a policy: you do what you can do,” Walker said. She doesn’t have perfect solutions to her environmental concerns or her moral qualms with eating animals, but this doesn’t mean she can’t live by principles. Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to live in perfect accordance with our values, but that’s how life is—we have to make compromises. Walker’s essay is a needed reminder of that.

Explore Nicole Walker’s website for more musings on food and life, and join us at the next English Reading Series for more insights from acclaimed authors.