Article contributed by Field Staff Writer S. West.
There is a lot of dialogue happening these days around the hunting and fishing world, and plenty of that seems to focus on the integrity of wild game as food source, and that is generally a good thing. I don’t think any sensible person would argue with the importance of knowing where your food comes from, and with “organic”, “sustainable”, and “locally-sourced” becoming buzzwords in the common dialogue about food, we as sportsmen and women have good reason to puff up our egos and proclaim ourselves as part of the avant-garde of the locavore movement.
We’ve been harvesting and eating our own food long before it was “cool”. The only negative I can see here is that some hunters and some sites in the public eye, Harvesting Nature is not included in this concern, seem to treat the role of the hunter as mere consumers, or take some level in perverse pride in listing the “rare” or “obscure” sources of their protein, in an almost antagonistic and sanctimonious tone to those who have either not been exposed to the hunting tradition or otherwise have reservations about eating wild game.
Yes, I’ve shot and eaten rabbits. No, I don’t want to shoot and eat your child’s pet bunny.
So simply using your preference for what other people may consider “exotic” meat is a poor excuse in my eyes for touting experiences in the outdoors and their importance in the food discussion. I’d like to pose a few more areas in the dialogue where we as a community can more thoughtfully inform the non-hunting public and the wild-game neophyte alike.
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We all want to know that what we eat is safe for us. Others have additional ethical and philosophical concerns about the quality of life that the animal had, or that the method of turning it from a living, breathing animal into meat approved for human consumption was humane, or that the animal was fed properly and naturally. Those are not unreasonable standards to maintain.
Harvesting wildlife not only makes the understanding of those standards crystal clear, but it also allows you as the consumer to assert control over the situation. You can choose whether an animal is mature, you can control the ethic of the shot or the method of the catch, and you can more or less know that a truly wild animal is likely the purest definition of “free-range” and “organic”. These are just a few of the things that can be taught to someone becoming an active participant in angling and hunting.
Part and parcel with the new”food awareness” ethic is the opportunity for a new generation of non-hunters to become hunters. You’ve by now heard of the Hipster Hunter movement, if you haven’t simply Google it and you’ll be presented with dozens of links to what this means. The crux of that movement is the desire for a group that had previously possessed no direct, familial, or traditional links to the hunting and angling traditions to have a closer relationship with their food. These are simply men and women who legitimately care about the source and quality of the food they choose to eat, and a group that cares so much that they are willing to immerse themselves in acts that are completely foreign to them. In a way, the allure and promise that wild game has as a “clean” source of food has taught a whole new demographic what many of us have already known for much of our lives: wild game is delicious, and the processes of obtaining wild game offer opportunity for reflection, learning, and are, with minor exceptions, thoroughly fun.
Another thing, and in my opinion, the most important thing, that harvesting wild game for the table teaches is that there are flavors and textures in the culinary world that the modern Western food industry has all but exterminated. If you can buy a farm-raised pheasant or procure some ranch-bred elk, than by all means hammer down, but the depth of flavor, the refinement in cooking methods (more on that later), and the opportunity for experimentation with ingredients found in eating truly wild-sourced meat exceeds the store-bought alternatives. I find that store bought chicken and beef is all but bereft of any real distinctive flavor, and the local fishmonger’s factory-produced salmon lacks both the clean taste and vibrant color to be found in something caught in one of the Great Lakes. You can actually see that wild game is exactly that, wild. Eating canned, or even farmed mushrooms cannot compare to the flavor of the handful of morels that I foraged one day on a British Columbia mountainside and later fried up after a long day of chasing wild turkeys.
Food should be as exciting as possible and the adventures associated with procuring wild game exceed a trip down a grocery store aisle, and the adventure of experiencing flavors and textures of stream run trout, a plump ruffed grouse, or a mature whitetail buck far outweigh anything offered by plain old chicken and beef.
Be sure to visit us next week for the second half of “The Food Chain: Reflections on Wild Game & the Modern Food Chain“.