Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Connecting the dots on the food chain

After reading Omnivore's dilemma, which is a book that anyone interested in food should read, it became a glaring moral imperative to me that I connect the dots in the chain from "animal in the field" to "thing I cook". I had never seen an animal alive that I later made a meal of, or really faced up to the fact that something with a nervous system and capacity for pain very similar to mine had to experience death for me to eat meat. I wanted to take some amount of responsibility for the animals that enable my carnivorous ways, and see what impacts it had on my attitudes and behavior.

Several of my friends have been hunting this season, and I finally found a date that I could tag along. We went out for the hunt and returned the following day having been responsible for the deaths of a 200 pound feral hog and a 100 pound wild boar. I'll spare the details, except for a few items that I think are interesting.

First, I was alone for my first shot for over an hour, during which time I was given an opportunity to through all twelve stages of the pre-first-shot moral dilemma. I considered all the ways I could lie and not kill anything - shoot at nothing and say I missed or say I never saw anything. It was a circuitous mental journey that finally brought me to the conclusion that I went there to connect the dots, so I would have to shoot if given the opportunity.

Second, when the boars finally came into view, I didn't turn into a shaky spazz that wasn't able to pull off a shot. I became intensely focused, which is quite a feat if you know me. I was so focused on a steady aim tracking to the movements of the boar that I don't even remember hearing the gun go off. This was a great surprise to me, and it gives me the impression that I have a mode of operation that's wired into my DNA that is specifically for tracking food.

Third, it wasn't nearly as awkward to "process" the animal as I thought it would be; the term "processing", for the record, is a feat in euphemistic artistry - it was nasty. I thought the act would be difficult to complete for reasons of intestinal fortitude, but I was able to get through this part with a minimum of revulsion - once the animal had died, I instinctively no longer associated it strongly with a living being.

At this point, I'd recommend the experience to anyone who realizes that they may be taking their food for granted. Now I'm going to wait a month and see if I feel like anything has changed in the way I think about meat or eating.

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