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Local author publishes deeply personal journey into ethical eating

“We Honor These Animals, For By Their Death, We Gain Life.”

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Local writer Marissa Landrigan addresses something most of us can relate to: a slow and horrifying awakening to the realities of a world in which we benefit from suffering. The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown professor’s particular cross — the ethics of meat — was her road to self-discovery and her new book, The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat (Greystone Books, 234 pp., $16.95).

Landrigan’s strong narrative voice depicts the journey of a quiet girl from her boisterous, Italian, food-centric home to Ithaca College, where she shaved her head and became an activist. After seeing PETA’s film Meet Your Meat, with its grisly images of chickens, cows and pigs at industrial farms and slaughterhouses, she stopped eating meat for seven years.

As a young woman pursuing a career and romance, Landrigan followed her passions around the country while struggling to find meaning in her dietary choices. The book is most stirring when relaying her experiences moment to moment: walking the streets of Washington, D.C., overworked, underpaid and coming home to soy-drenched, processed MorningStar meals; with her hands in the dirt at an organic farm; and hunting her first elk, in Montana. In returning to meat-eating, she’s determined to get as close to the source as possible.

As someone who was radicalized young and stopped eating meat for a decade, I found parts of this book torturous to read. It reflected so closely the earnest conflict and passion I had as an overconfident young activist. Landrigan, admirably, admits just how lost she felt and, at times, how superior to meat-eaters. Her struggle to distinguish her ideals from the reality of our food choices casts a harsh light on how the American food landscape forces consumers to choose (assuming they’re privileged enough to choose) between finances, ethics and accessibility.

The killing floor is where explorations of the ego must end. Landrigan finds herself at Black Earth Meats, a real slaughterhouse, confronting the killing and death that drove her from meat consumption. “It was here that my eyes opened fully,” she writes, “and the whole time, I was standing beneath a sign that read ‘We Honor These Animals, For By Their Death, We Gain Life.’” Still, I’m left wanting more from Landrigan. Something more razor-sharp, less memoir and more investigation. I have no doubt she’ll deliver.

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