The eco-killer hunting her own meat

Story highlights

  • Louise Gray hunted and killed her own meat for two years
  • 'The ethical carnivore' explores the damage caused by the meat industry
  • Gray feels meat consumption will decline as people learn more about the industry

(CNN)"I wait and wait, breathe, breathe until my hand is steady, my shot sure, the crosshair moving up and down as I breathe, in and out. And squeeze.

"One shot and she is down, her body twitching like a dog in its sleep. I make the gun safe and run to her; she is still, a clean kill, the eyes gone, dead. George cuts the throat for the bleed-out."
    Two years ago, Louise Gray quit her job as an environmental journalist for a new role as a hunter.
    Gray, a farmer's daughter, had never killed before. But her growing unease about the ethics and environmental impact of the meat industry - which has a larger carbon footprint than the transport industry - led her to a resolution: She would only eat animals that she killed herself.
    "No-one really knows where their meat comes from," explains Gray. "With climate change, should we be eating meat at all? There were all these unanswered questions that I wanted to explore for myself."
    The mission took her from chicken barns to pheasant shoots and abattoirs, probing the secrets of industry, and weighing the responsibility of consumers. She documented the experience in her book "The ethical carnivore: My year killing to eat."
    Target practice before the hunt.

    The act of killing

    The journey began in Essex, South England, in pursuit of a rabbit.
    The first kill would prove the most affecting. Gray felt crippling guilt after shooting a beautiful white rabbit, which was only wounded at first before succumbing to its injuries.
    "It was the first time I had killed anything and the sense of not being able to reverse it...was quite frightening," she recalls.
    But after a spell of doubt when she considers abandoning the mission, Gray persists and finds herself slaying beasts across Britain, from the oyster bays of Scotland to the shooting clubs of London.
    Over the course of the book, she kills 21 different species on land and at sea, with guns, knives, and her bare hands, culminating in a mighty stag that she hunts with her father.
    Gray learns new skills along the way; stalking, shooting, and gutting her kills, before converting them into delicious meals for her incredulous urban friends.
    Louise Gray with her final kill - a Scottish stag.

    The professionals

    Most of Gray's haul comes working alongside the professionals who keep the meat industry moving.
    This takes some harrowing turns, such as during a visit to a slaughterhouse that is presented as a vision of hell.
    "The sows hang upside down, their heads soaking in blood dripping off their ears, their eyelashes," the author recounts. "The hair is burned off with a naked flame and the flesh is branded, adding the smell of burning flesh to sh*t and blood."
    The experience leaves Gray shaken, and vowing to never eat an animal that has been through a slaughterhouse, which she feels are impossible to justify.
    But she is careful not to condemn the workers of this bloody trade, routinely dismissed as sadists by environmental activists, and poignantly records a female abattoir manager showing her pictures of pet dogs.
    "If you are going to eat meat you should be ready to understand and frankly thank those people," she says.
    Sympathy for the "devils" of the meat industry is a recurring motif. Gray is frequently impressed with knowledge of farmers and fishermen, who have a close connection to the land they work, and compassion for animals.
    "It was a mistake to see the pigs before," says Gray of her abattoir visit.

    Reform movement

    The author is clear that the meat industry does need reforms.
    She suggests the systematic use of CCTV in slaughterhouses, and higher standards of animal welfare -- although the ex