14 September 2013

Food Karma: Hunting

I'd like to begin by saying that I eat a mostly vegetarian diet.  Pretty close to vegan with the exception of eggs locally raised with love by a friend and the occasional bottle or jar of kefir.  Okay, I love Middle Eastern yogurt (think Greek yogurt... but better).  I love cheese, but am horribly allergic to lactose so there goes that temptation (most of the time).  99% of the time I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.  Or any other pole. Or any other Pole.

Anyway.  Back to the subject of eating animals which is what I meant to talk about in the first place.  As a very Buddhist leaning Agnostic, I do overall believe in not harming other living beings or contributing to their suffering.

I especially do not eat factory farmed animals who have endured lives of great suffering (regardless of what the FDA or USDA finds acceptable), which means you won't catch me buying meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy from my local supermarket.  I am not against the consumption of meat as food but I am completely against playing a part in a practice that I find inhumane to the point of barbarism.  By giving those companies my money I would not only be condoning their practices, but playing a vital role in ensuring these unethical practices continue.

I cannot count the number of people I've spoken to about food and their diets only to be told, "well if I knew where it came from, I couldn't eat it."  That should tell you something right there.

Which brings me to a rather contentious point.  A friend of mine who is a Buddhist sometimes eats meat.  While he is respectful of the animal that gave it's life, which is in a likelihood feedlot beef, he was completely appalled and absolutely livid that I am considering learning to hunt.

Deliberately killing another living creature does incur bad karma.  Killing is bad; we all basically know that right?  But how does eating the meat of an animal that spent most it's life in unsanitary, cramped, and inhumane conditions bestow less negative karma simply because you didn't personally commit the act of slaughter?  Is there a karmic loophole I am not aware of?  Someone else gets the full burden of bad karma from taking an animal's life and you get to enjoy cheeseburger while enjoying a lesser karmic weight?  I find this completely unethical and dishonest to the point of hypocrisy.  You're actively participating in perpetuating the suffering of living creatures.  How does this have less karmic impact?  I don't believe it does.  It has more because you've made the deliberate decision to participate in the continuation of a cycle of cruelty.

Moving onto the topic of hunting, how does eating conventionally grown meat or poultry incur less karmic debt or guilt than killing a wild animal quickly and humanely, respecting the animal that gave it's life, the life that you took, and then feeding your family and friends?  At least you own that karma instead of hiding behind plastic packaged hunks of skinned, de-boned barely recognizable flesh.

Is it because the former removes you from the nitty gritty far enough that you can stomach the food products you consume?  Food that would probably turn you into a vegan if slaughter houses had glass walls?

I'm not going to lie; wild animals don't live in an idyllic paradise any more than the milk you drink or butter you eat comes from cows that graze in the technicolor pastures next to Old McDonald's freshly painted red barn.  The difference is that wild animals have the chance to participate in nature and are a part of the natural world; domestic animals raised in factory like farms called CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) have zero chance of living anything resembling a normal, natural or humane life.  They are little more than commodities processed through streamlined, industrial systems.

If you're okay voting for those practices with your hard earned money that choice is yours to make.  We all have that choice.  I choose not to.

Returning to hunting, I grew up in Michigan where hunting has always had a sense of normalcy to me even though I went through a very vocal anti-hunting phase and then became vegetarian for a couple years when I was in middle school.  In hindsight my heart and ethics were in the right place, but if I'd more educated I would have railed against CAFOs and commercial fishing practices.

The anti-hunting beliefs I held when I was younger was the direct result of one particular incident involving poachers on our land.  I was with my grandmother, driving back to her house which is set far back from the road.  A doe was dragging herself across the field because her back end was paralyzed.  She was in agony.  The two hunters were standing next to the tailgate of their pickup truck drinking coffee and chatting nonchalantly.  I couldn't have been more then ten years old.  I was out of the car, yelling at them (I have no recollection of what I said) before my grandmother could lock the door.  I mean, they were clearly assholes, were trespassing, and had guns.  I did return to the car at my grandmother's frantic request... as we drove away I heard a gunshot and hoped they finally put that poor doe out of her horrific suffering.

I would like to be clear that I don't approve of hunting for mere sport or a trophy to hang over the mantelpiece.  And that solitary incident left me with an extremely negative opinion of hunters in general (no one in my family was more than a casual, sometimes weekend hunter).

One of the many benefits of starting an upland bird hunting dog rescue is that while I've met some of the most heartless and inhumane people imaginable I have also had the incredible pleasure of meeting so many hunters who have such overwhelming compassion and respect for their dogs, the environment, conservation, and the game they pursue.

As someone who has a lifelong love of food and deeply held ethics about where my food comes from, hunting seems like an inevitable marriage between my philosophy and inherent pragmatism.

While I cannot give certain dear friends of mine enough credit that is their due for continually inspiring me (and sometimes picking on me), there is one book in particular that I have read and reread which sparked my gradually increasing leaning toward learning to hunt and source my own food.  How far do you have to lean before you tip over?  Hmm.

 The book I am alluding to is "Girl Hunter" by chef Georgia Pellegrini. I only read a chapter at a time (and this is my second read-through), to let the humour, wisdom, and determined spirit of adventure steep into my mind.  Not to mention the recipes, which are worth buying the book for on their own merit.

I could not recommend this book more highly to anyone who hunts, is considering hunting, loves food, loves cooking, cares about eating locally, or who doesn't hold a good opinion of hunting at all.  There is something to entertain and educate everyone.  Plus it's available in multiple formats!  Hardcover, paperback, audio book, Kindle edition, etc.

For more cooking, hunting, gathering, and old timey skills check out Georgia's blog.  You can also find the link to her blog on the right sidebar under ~ Food Blogs ~.

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