I’m just going to come out and say it: Right now intellectual foodies might just be saving hunting.
Some call them culinary pioneers, others call them counter-culture loving hipsters. No matter the label, it seems our little hunting club has some interesting new members. There’s no way around it.
Finally, a few in the mainstream are digesting what we’re serving, and it’s time we recognized it’s a good thing.As the world has evolved and consumption of food has become less about the why and more about the how fast, droves of previously disinterested Americans are suddenly willing to consider killing, cutting, and cooking their own meat. This isn’t your granddaddy’s old redneck stereotype. We’re talking about a new breed.
But how did we get here?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Locavore Movement. For our purposes we’ll use this definition we’ll define locavore hunters as, “individuals who go afield for reasons of self-sufficiency and a desire for organic, local, chemical-free meat.”
This organic pursuit is nothing brand new.
In 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary selected locavore as the “Word of the Year.” At that time it was connected mostly to foodies coveting locally grown products, shunning supermarkets, and finding fresh ingredients in their own backyards. They also began aggressively trumpeting the negative environmental impact of mass-produced goods.
One of the more obvious connections locavores made early on was to the Paleo diet, an eating trend based on wholesome foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era.
The diet was first popularized in the mid-1970s, but over the years it’s been adapted and promoted by scores of scientists and researchers. None have been quoted recently quite as much as nutritionists Ken Edwards and William Rice.
Rice and Edwards say that our modern diets are out of sync with our genetic requirements. That 100,000 generations of people lived and ate as hunter-gatherers and only two generations have grown up on highly processed fast foods. We’ve become slaves to “diseases of civilization.”
Boy, does that ring true to a hunter’s ear.
As this hunter-gatherer thing began to take off, some unlikely characters started to surface, linking foraging to hunting and hunting to self-sufficiency.
Author Michael Pollan was one of them. The California-based journalism professor penned the 2006 work, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which became a national bestseller and was named one of the 10 best books of that year.
Pollan had previously made a name for himself as the most prominent literary voice in the nature versus culture argument. The Omnivore’s Dilemma followed Pollan, admittedly a liberal-minded “indoorsman,” on his first hunt for wild hogs.
As a well-known liberal foodie leading the cultural change of the day, Pollan’s support for hunting through visceral descriptions in the book became a bridge. He writes “hunting is one of those experiences that appears utterly different from the inside than the outside.”
As Pollan and the mainstream spiraled deep into the greener, more health-conscious life and the non-hunting population upped the ante on finding alternatives it was only a matter of time before the urban housewife saw the veggies on her plate and peered beyond her garden to the meddlesome deer standing in her backyard. For the first time, she might consider hunting.
Others have certainly explored this notion, but Pollan asked it bluntly in a 2009 article for The New York Times.
“How did humans manage to choose foods,” he wrote, “and stay healthy before there were nutrition experts and food pyramids or breakfast cereals promising to improve your child’s focus or restaurant portions bigger than your head?”
Answering this question is what the hunter-gatherer premise and the Paleo diet are all about. People going so far beyond the mass-produced, chemically enhanced garbage hawked by the American food industry that their diets have landed in the Stone Age—a time in which hunting was the only way to get meat.
That’s one huge ironic circle of absurdity.
Non-hunters are being driven to hunt in an attempt to erase 2.6 million years of culinary evolution as a kind of last resort to eliminate modern diet-based diseases. As if the food alternatives in this country have become so poor (just picture the gray, slimy preformed filth hiding between the buns of a Big Mac) that even the most environmentally conscious among us can’t deny hunting’s patrimonial and nutritional appeal.
But even if we can all agree with this premise, converts have to come to terms with the gritty, bloody nature of killing a game animal. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where these liberal intellectuals must decide if they’ll be able to enjoy their venison steak without a side of misplaced guilt.
This reconciliation often requires a philosophical shift for those in the mainstream. As non-hunters begin to consider this more hands-on route to their consumption of protein, they run face-first into the fact that, yes, they’ll need to rip the guts out of a deer before they can have the tenderloin or tear the skin from a turkey’s breast before they can slice out the filets. And this only comes after shooting it.
Buying farm-raised venison at a local butcher or begging for a few packs of backstraps from your redneck neighbor is one thing, but feeding your family with meat that you manually removed from an animal you killed is another. It’s about substituting that side of guilt with the pride of self-reliance.
It’s about not only eating meat, but also living the life of a meat eater. Throwing back with impunity the notion that hunting could ever become unnecessary through some modern innovation. As if putting a Whole Foods down the street could solve your need for fresh, organic meat or some stick-on label with nutritional facts could ever replace going to where an animal lives and killing it.
To ground this idea into the roots of popular culture, we need faces at the forefront. Public figures able to convey the meat-eater message quite simply, continue convincing the masses to digest it, and get these folks into the woods. Someone the urban population can relate to, maybe the polar opposite of Ted Nugent.
Outdoor media outlets have always been quite good at handling the hunting niche, preaching to our choir. But with anti-hunting factions in this nation pushing with full force, it’s time for a new game plan. The stage is set for some pretty revolutionary things.