Thursday, December 3, 2009

They're not 'hunters' anymore, they're 'locavores'

I hadn't heard the term 'locavore' until I came across a New York Times article about a boom in hunter education for urban residents in the North-East.

THE call to forge deeper connections with the food we eat has pulled thousands to the nation’s farmers’ markets, sprouted a million backyard seedlings and jump-started an interest in scratch baking, canning and other county-fair pursuits.

Now add hunting to the list. Novice urban hunters are forming classes and clubs to learn skills that a few generations ago were often passed down from parent to child.

Jackson Landers, an insurance broker by day, teaches a course here called Deer Hunting for Locavores. Mr. Landers, 31, started the classes earlier this year for largely urban adults who, like him, did not grow up stalking prey but have gravitated to harvesting and cooking their own game.

He tailored his course to food-obsessed city people with lessons on deer biology, habitat and anatomy, and rounded out his students’ education with field trips to a firing range to practice shooting and a session on butchery and cooking. One of the last lessons covered field dressing a freshly killed deer. As the students gathered around, Mr. Landers produced a hunting knife and explained its gut-hook feature, which promised to open the deer “like a zipper.”

“I’d never fired a gun before,” said Michael Davis, 44, a graphic designer and a student in the class. “I grew up in Southern California. We surfed, we didn’t hunt.”

But Mr. Davis, a self-described foodie, said he needed to understand what it means to hunt for food.

“I think going through my life without at least experiencing that most primal thing of hunting would be cheating,” he said.

It was a taste for wild boar that spurred Nick Zigelbaum, 26, and Nick Chaset, 27, to form a hunting and dining club in San Francisco that they call the Bull Moose Hunting Society. The society, founded in 2007, was designed to appeal to young urban residents looking to expand their horizons.

The club now has roughly 55 dues-paying members, many of them in their 20s and 30s, who hunt for boar, pheasant and waterfowl together. They share local hunting knowledge and the spoils of a good day in the field at semi-regular events they call boar-b-ques and wild food dinners.

Mr. Chaset, who is now attending graduate business school in Washington, D.C., recently established a chapter of the club there. The founders hope that someday they’ll have a chapter in every major American urban area.

Nationwide, the number of hunters has been in decline for decades. The country’s shift from rural to urban life is the main reason, said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a survey and research firm that specializes in natural resources and outdoor recreation issues.

According to his firm’s research, only 22 percent of hunters now say they hunt primarily for food. Most say they do so for recreation or to spend time with their families.

“Thirty years ago it was about half the hunters who were hunting for food,” Mr. Duda said.

The connection never completely faded, though. Some American chefs who grew up with rifles in their hands have long been passionate about wild game, even if the law forbids them from serving it in their restaurants. The subject has also been taken up recently by the writers Michael Pollan, who shoots a wild boar in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and Steven Rinella, who chronicled his quest to kill a wild American bison in “American Buffalo.” But until recently, tree stands and Mossy Oak camouflage were rarely mentioned in the same breath as, say, heirloom tomatoes.

Anthony Licata, editor of Field & Stream magazine, said he wasn’t surprised that a new generation of eaters was discovering what traditional hunters have known all along: “There’s nothing more organic and free range than meat you hunt for yourself and your family,” he said.

Mr. Licata, who is 35 and lives in New Jersey, said he thought interest in hunting among young urban locavores was bound to grow. “When you do hunt and if you’re lucky enough to fill your freezer with venison and feed your family, it’s a powerful thing,” he said. “They aren’t going to want to stop.”

Mr. Landers, who tries to take Virginia’s full limit of six deer a year, agreed. For the cost of the necessary licenses, $36.50, he said he can stock his freezer with nearly free protein.

He also argued that for the environmentally conscious, hunting is fairly carbon neutral.

“If you can shoot a deer in your own backyard, butcher it there, that’s zero food miles,” he said.

There's more at the link.

I'm pleased to hear of this trend. A lot of people don't realize that most of the funds for State natural parks, and fish and wildlife resources, are directly drawn from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, plus taxes on the sale of related products. The less hunting that goes on, the less the various States are able to fund their wildlife programs. If we can attract more people to a very healthy outdoor activity, we'll also benefit wildlife as a whole - and people will be able to harvest food when times are tough.



Julie said...

"locavore" - word I hadn't heard before either.

I think it is great that more people are getting interested in hunting for food - makes a nice change from reading articles which decry this persuit.

Diamond Mair said...

OK, BUT - when we moved to Pennsylvania, up in the hills around Ephrata, PA, we were INUNDATED with idiots from DC/Philadelphia/NY, who would ignore No Trespassing signs {posted around a Girl Scout Camp that was used year'round} - they shot a cat we'd had for about 10 years, in a tree inside the 'no trespassing' area, because she "looked like a squirrel" and "had no business being outside in hunting season" - my Dad was stopped by some wannabe who didn't know how to field dress his deer - some of the geniuses we dealt with had NO CLUE that it's the narrow end of the rifle/shotgun that's dangerous - I saw safety morons that should have been Darwin contenders ................... plus a LOT of wounded animals that the "hunters" were too lazy or stupid to track & finish off. If the current crop of yuppie wannabe hunters are an improvement, OK - but personally, I believe they'd do better to move to more rural areas and get a 'feel' for the ENTIRE experience ...................

Semper Fi'

Steve said...

As much as I like your point on increased park revenue, I believe that these guys are out there for the wrong reasons. This article feels like it is a fad. In my opinion, these guys are trying to reclaim lost testosterone, instead of loving the land and the wilderness. These guys seem to be more interested in their inner caveman.

Hopefully, this will turn into getting more people into the world of a true hunter - part land conservation, part wildlife conservation and all love for His creation.

Until then, I remain unimpressed.


LabRat said...

Knowing a few that are somewhat like this- not newbies, but definitely into hunting as part of an overall experience of being connected to their food- I feel somewhat more optimistic about them. They're not *all* urban Fudds, and hunting does tend to get under the skin.

Also, Rinella's "Scavenger's Guide To Haute Cuisine" would have been a much better example. It's an excellent read- he attempts to replicate a large portion of Escoffier's Guide Culinaire with hunted, fished, and foraged resources. Rinella's a lifelong hunter, though.