In the winter of 2013, I set out in the Greater Yellowstone wilderness of Southern Montana to try to share what I believe to be the most honest possible version of what hunting is. I worked with Henry Roosevelt of Native Boy Films (@NativeBoyFilms), and together with Tim Bowers of Bear Paw Outfitters, we rode on horseback up and down mountain trails for five days. Henry's jaw-dropping cinematic talent captured some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and the story of our hunt has been doing rounds in the film festival circuit.
The hunt itself changed my life forever, and the complex cocktail of emotions it triggered have totally altered how I think about food. The experience of eating game meat you have hunted is not even in the same galaxy as anything you have ever bought from a store. To some extent we are all killers, either having the killing done for us on concrete floors or to stop animals from eating our vegetables before they reach stores. The further we put ourselves from the source of that act, the worse the impact for everyone and everything in the chain.
Though many may find elements of the video troubling (and to some extent, we all should), I think it's only right that the eater, rather than a third party, absorb the emotional, environmental and physiological burdens entailed in eating. That goes for all conscious diets, meat-eating or not. It is our fear of facing the gruesome consequences of our own choices that leads us to outsource the "sausage-making" to third party leviathans, whose increasing power have left us disconnected from the wild.
Generation Y has inherited the most polluted planet in all of recorded human history. The impact of this is felt everywhere, but no more viscerally than on our dinner plates. The question of where our food comes from is on the lips of everyone today, with books like Food Inc or The Omnivores Dilemma fueling a rethink on what food and eating mean in the 21st century.
In reaction to this, a lot of us are looking for pesticide-free and hormone-free products in stores, or have switched to diets free of animal products altogether. The social and environmental costs of animal food production are extremely high, accounting for around 18% of worldwide carbon emissions and requiring millions of dollars of environmental clean-up. Vegans can't pat themselves on the back, either. The demand for cheap produce leads to exploitative labor practices for migrant workers, land erosion and farming techniques that result in an estimated the collateral death of 1.8 billion animals per year.
As a generation, our entire generation faces a choice: either continue the disastrous environmental, and economic food policies of the Boomers or make new choices regarding how and what we eat.
It's time for us to start hunting.
For most of American history, people had a direct and personal relationship with the food they ate. Farming and hunting traditions were passed from one generation to the next, and parents taught their children how to hunt in the wild. After World War II, hunting activity suffered a massive decline when the Baby Boomers became the first generation to decide that hunting was no longer a primary source of food, but rather an act of leisure. Times had changed, food was now space-aged, it was tin-foiled and microwaved, it was processed and manipulated, and it was prepared in factories by machines and migrants. This period created the greatest distance between people and their food, and it is no coincidence this period was also the most environmentally devastating in human history.
This shift from individual responsibility for sourcing food to relying on large factory farms made us lose direct sight of the impact of our eating choices. Those who rely most on nature fight the hardest to protect it, and those of us who outsource its production and processing pay for it in environmental, health and social costs. Because hunting connects people to the wild, it creates a more direct and honest relationship with food. In this dichotomy, there is hope.
Recently, the construction of the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska was halted. The mine itself posed a massive threat to Alaska's last remaining wild salmon fisheries, something most of us eat on a relatively regular basis. But it was not the consumers of Salmon (a huge number of people), but rather the relative few Inuit and commercial fishermen who led the charge to stop the mine. They did it because they relied on nature directly, every single day.
America is uniquely blessed with massive areas of public land, where Government controls access to wildlife and Hunters pay fees to harvest from the wild. This arrangement generates billions of dollars to fund important conservation activities. There is no silver bullet, but even slight changes in behavior make a huge difference. Until we take responsibility for the impact our actions have on the environment, we will continue the destructive course set over previous decades.
It will take strong voices to make a cultural change, while hunting has its brutality, people don't think twice to Instagram their food with dubious origins. There are emerging voices in this fight, authors like Steven Rinella (@stevenrinella) and Hank Shaw (@Hank_Shaw) remind us that the best food is wild, and that the story of what is on our plate matters just as much as how it tastes.