Monday, January 21, 2013

The ethics of eating Wild Food

Rachel Stewart's piece "Could you kill the animal for tonight's dinner?" sums up so well what I'd planned to write.  So here it is verbatim for those who don't read the Taranaki Daily Times.

"Buried deep down in the dark recesses of my psyche is a code. I don't know how it got there but it goes like this: If you eat it you first must be able to kill it.

It's enough for some to turn vegetarian - vegan even. Many have turned, and many more will, but where does that leave the rest of us - true carnivores looking for our next iron-boosting chomp of blood-red protein?

Just like nearly everybody else in this high-convenience, low- reality world, the majority of my meat comes from supermarkets in a nicely packaged, almost pretty cut of animal flesh. The human disconnect between industrial farming and slaughter processes, and the meat in our shopping trolley, runs deep.

This is obviously more of a liberal's dilemma than anybody else's. You love meat but you don't like eating anything with a face, let alone killing it too, right? Then it's way past time to wake up and smell the blood. There's a word for the likes of you; hypocrite.

Meat-eaters who judge hunters, and often their guns, need a weekend in the bush. Trust me, take up this one-time offer because the alternative - a tour through the abattoir - will make the bush trip look like a picnic.

Regular readers of my columns will know that I own guns for hunting, but I am also a falconer. Falconry is using a bird of prey (such as a hawk) for hunting game - rabbits and hares mainly.

I enjoy it for a raft of reasons, but one of them is that the prey has a sporting chance of getting away.

However, it provides enough statistical success to keep both me and the bird interested.

Many meat-eating dimwits have some rather strange opinions about hunting prey with birds. Here's but one: "Instead of killing those poor, defenceless little bunny rabbits why don't you just feed the hawk some hamburger mince?"

Hmmm, well, let me think on that for a nanosecond, dingbat.

It is indisputably more honest and ethically sound to kill and eat an animal that was raised in its natural habitat - not put through the industrial agricultural system where its death has simply been contracted out for our convenience.

Maybe some people's distaste for hunting is to do with a generalisation that all hunters are gun-toting, redneck conservatives.

In the United States the urban population in particular struggles with this caricature.

However, while it is true that many hunters err on the side of listening to Garth Brooks and wearing snakeskin boots, more and more urban liberals are looking for a way to reconcile their eating habits with their ethical values.

Hunters know in their bones that it is less about the killing, and more about the connection with nature, that keeps them going back out there.

I know many a politically conservative hunter who holds a respect for animals and the environment, unmatched by any urban liberal I've ever met.

At the conclusion of our annual North American falconry meets, and before we sit down to eat our final meal together, a bell is rung. It's rung for mates who died during the preceding year, and also for the wild game whose lives were taken during the week of hunting. In other words, we honour the dead.

I can't begin to tell you how deeply disgusted I was about the dressing up of the dead possums at Uruti school last year. Yeah, I know all the reasons why people thought it was perfectly fine to do such a thing. But you will never convince me that messing with the dead - human or non-human - is acceptable. It is not.

I have killed hundreds of rabbits and possums and they are always dispatched as quickly and cleanly as possible. They are used as meat for me, my dog, hawks or eels. No one part is wasted. Pests, or not, I respect their life and their death. Putting them in a tutu and applying lipstick and nail polish to their corpse is about as funny to me as, say, drunk driving.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that hunting for your dinner is everyone's cup of tea. Fortunately, in our pre-packaged, artificial world you don't have to. Yet.

What I am saying is that as you're tucking into that juicy steak, take a moment to ponder the route the animal took to get to your plate. Is the business of the industrialised meat trade acceptable to you and your morals? Is the reality of slaughterhouses, and the increasingly real prospect of strange substances in your meat, OK with you?

If it is then you'll be happy with the status quo. No hunting and gathering for you. But be careful not to judge those who do.

If it isn't OK, maybe it's time to remember where your meat actually comes from. Could you look that animal in the eye before you killed it? Could you gut it and butcher it? Could you eat it without any pangs of guilt?

If not, then your only honest option is to acquaint yourself with a life overflowing with an abundance of vegetables."

Acknowledgements to Fairfax's Taranaki Daily Times.

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