Monday, February 20, 2012

The Mindful Carnivore: the Pros and Cons of the Foodie-Hunting Movement

The entry below is a response to the book "The Mindful Carnivore" and blog on a movement that people are now describes as Adult On-set Hunting.

I have very mixed feelings about the growing movement you describe in your book, which are described below. I grew up in Minnesota and was an avid hunter and fisherman from a young age. Once I got a car, I decided to quit most high school sports to hunt and fish every chance I had. Following this passion, I went to school to work in conservation and have more or less done so ever since. I realize that my perspective is a result of privilege, of the family and area in which I grew up, and thus I take every chance I have to introduce folks to an activity that requires field-level introduction.

First, what I see as the good:

1. Hunters are too-often labeled as rednecks, careless, take-what-you-wants. As people who clearly defy this stereotype, or perhaps have perpetuated it in the past, come over to "the dark side", as Joe puts it, hunters will be able to move past this and enter into discussions they were formerly precluded from.

2. The division between environmentalist groups and "hook and bullet" groups could be blurred and they could mobilize in a concerted effort to make positive environmental change. While this may be possible, it seems unlikely, as the premises of the two groups are often conflict; wise use vs. protection. I would like to see nothing more than the pendulum to swing a bit more towards wise-use. Increasingly, environmental policies are leading to human exclusion (see land trusts, restrictive conservation easements, city/county-owned land, etc.). These lands are often funded publicly, yet increasingly restrict hunting. Perhaps if the groups purchasing these lands hunted, they would have an interest in improving access and opportunity? These lands tend to be located closer to urban developments and thus offer some of the 'greenest' and 'local' hunting options.

3. Greater public acceptance of hunting. When I moved from MN to Eugene, Oregon and number of years back, I received varied responses from my environmentalist friends when I told them hunting was my favorite pastime. Over the past few years, as media and foodies popularized the idea of hunting for meat, I noticed a clear change in people's reactions to my hobby. While I was grateful for this, their acceptance was based on what I view as an extremely small aspect of hunting, which leads me to what I see as potential threats to this ancient past-time.

4. Defense of gun rights from the left. Generally, democrats policies tend to be more pro-conservation, pro-public land, pro habitat funding, etc. Yet, largely because of the gun rights issue, sportsmen tend to vote for 'conservatives' (where did the 'conserve' part get lost?). Perhaps as more liberal-leaning folks partake in the sport and understand that guns are useful and needed, this perplexing political misrepresentation of sportsmen's interests can be fixed?

What I see as Threats:

1. Hunting solely for meat. While some hunters hunt largely for this purpose, most realize it to be much more; a social activity through which to bond with family or friends; a pseudo-spiritual experience; a pastime; and/or, some indescribable primal need. The embrace for hunting that Eric Jensen describes Norway as having is actually a good example of what happens when the hunting experience is privatized and the value of the hunt is placed in the meat. If you want to hunt a Moose in Norway, you must first purchase a tag from a private land owner. If you are lucky enough to shoot a moose with that tag on said private land, you pay the land owner an additional per-pound rate for that moose. Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to have public lands which ought to prevent such a system; however, if the demand for tags from pure meat hunters continues to grow, I fear that people might begin to view such a system as a way to allocate game and regulate the demand for the activity.

2. Taking, but not putting back. There's no catch and release in hunting, but the principles carry over. For example, it is a matter of conservation and hunter-pride, not to shoot a female duck, if you have the choice. While limits are crafted to ensure populations are sustainably managed, shooting males holds a certain honor that is generally passed-on through social milieu. Simply put, if everyone shot whatever they wanted, there'd be fewer ducks. As foodies pursue game for food, how will they continue to perpetuate this conservation ethic and nuance of the sport?

3. Backlash from change in culture. Even for those who hunt for meat, if they've been doing it for any substantial amount of time, they've developed traditions, hunting parties/buddies, clubs and conservation organizations, etc. As a new culture of hunters enter the scene, I fear there will be a backlash amongst hunters that will actually lead to divisions within the political and organizational hunting culture. In many places a form of this already occurs, through city-slickers vs. rural-folk grudges. However, when it comes to funding for conservation organizations, fundraising banquets and to some extent conservation-based political organization, most hunters have a mentality that we're all in this together. Just as there has always been a backlash to America's newest immigrants, so to may be the case within the highly-organized and traditional hunting culture. I sure hope not.