The Food Chain: Reflections on Wild Game & the Modern Food Chain – Part 2

Hunting with FriendsArticle contributed by Field Staff Writer S. West.

Make sure to read Part 1 of The Food Chain Series.

Wild Game Tastes Great…If Prepared Properly
I’ve often heard the refrain “I tried venison once, and it was like shoe leather!” or “Canada Geese are trash birds!” or, most annoyingly “I don’t like anything that tastes gamey.” I assert that if you show me one of the people who think the above, I can show you a person who has not had wild game that was properly prepared. Now of course, there is no accounting for personal preference, and that is not what I’m getting at here, but allow me to give a real world example.

I don’t like raw tomatoes. I pick them off of sandwiches, and I’m never going to truly know the joys of a freshly-made Caprese salad. Salsa is pushing it for me.

So there you have it; poor old hypocritical me is lecturing on food preferences, when I won’t eat a simple raw tomato. But that is not really what I’m trying to prove. The “game” taste is real, and everyone has a different palate so I can understand it overpowering someone, but with simple methods that are readily available in cookbooks and on the internet at large even the gamiest flavors can be tempered and mellowed.

There are countless Smoked Venisonpreparations, seasonings, and techniques that can either calm or accentuate what people call “gaminess” and before I get into the minutia of those details let me tell you a secret. “Gaminess” is just how meat tastes in a natural state. So if you like strong flavors in your wild game, I find using strong seasoning, like rosemary, chilies, ground cloves, or even coffee grounds on venison, or strong marinades like spicy red wines to accentuate that taste. Milder seasonings and marinades (I’ve gone so far as 24 hour soaking in milk to tame the gaminess and thus not scare my toddler children away from a ‘stronger’ flavor) can tone down gaminess if that’s what you want. Technique-wise, I find that braises and stews soften aggressive gaminess, while high heat searing, grilling, and roasting pumps up the game flavor in most animals. Of course there is always a fine line to tread here, and flavor is the wild-card in this game equation. For example, while a braise may tone down gaminess, it will enhance tenderness. The most important piece here is to learn and experiment.

Grilled Turkey BreastsEverything I know about cooking wild game I learned through trial and error initially, and more recently through knowledgeable and trusted sources like Hank Shaw’s cooking guides and from the recipe section of Harvesting Nature. I’m not a chef, I just care about treating wild game properly.  After all, the animal died so you could eat it. Treat it the right way, and if you screw it up, choke it down and learn for the next time.

It Creates Connections
Ultimately, the physical act of taking your own wild game creates a link between the human consumer and the animal that is to be eaten. This connection goes way beyond anything that could be achieved by talking to a butcher, visiting a working farm, or spending time in an abattoir, the latter being less preferable than the two former for most people. Taking on the challenge of harvesting wild game in their own environment, under their own terms, against their own evolved defense mechanisms immerses the hunter or the angler in the process, and transforms them from a mere consumer into an active participant in their own sustenance.

Hunting with FamilyThe concepts of ‘predator’ and ‘prey’ aside, which in human terms are generally just archetypes and not a real representation of what harvesting wild game entails, the connections made with the wilderness spaces that many of the most commonly hunted and fished species reside in only serve to further strengthen a sense of stewardship and appreciation for the outdoors among the vast majority of anglers and hunters, which is to speak nothing of the personal connections created by the bonding of family and friends when wild game is pursued and shared as a group effort.

Now I’m no doe-eyed idealist, and I realize that in the modern Western world there are a very, very limited number of people who require hunting and angling for simple subsistence, and those that do are usually doing so by choice and living in (generally) remote areas. However, that the average person can meet all their protein and nutritional needs at the local grocery does not diminish any of the preceding arguments.

Of course we don’t ‘need’ to catch our fish or shoot our own meat these days, any more than we ‘need’ cell phones and televisions to carry on conversations or be entertained, and I absolutely understand that the act of killing wild game for food is a choice as opposed to the imperative that it once was in the not so distant past. My simple argument is that the broad range of experiential benefits to be gained in hunting, fishing, and foraging for food far outweigh any of the benefits of modern convenience and are superior to what many would call the ‘standard model’ of getting something to eat.

Reams more could be written, and already have been written by writers more qualified and capable than I on this topic, but the bottom line is that save for a small number of people in a small number of situations, modern anglers and hunters still sit atop the food chain and we are still subject to the responsibility that this position brings. We can most effectively exercise that responsibility when we understand and discuss what we gain and achieve in harvesting wild game and by sharing our perspective with those who are hostile, indifferent, or blissfully unaware of all that wild game has to offer.

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