ON HUNTING AND GATHERING
I live with a bunch of hunter-gatherers. I was born and raised in the city, but moved to the mountains when I graduated from college. My prior experience with hunting and gathering involved bargains at department stores. Then, I married a farmer. I knew that my life had really changed on the day that my brand new husband came home, dropped a deer carcass (skinned and gutted) on my countertop and declared, “I brought you a little something to work up.”
That’s how I learned to cut up and process a deer. Now, I work up between two and five deer a year. I don’t think I realized how much I have changed, until I visited my sister, who lives on the edge of Atlanta. To celebrate my arrival, she hosted a small get-together so I could meet some of her friends. Meg introduced me as her “country sister.” I think everyone pictured me sitting on a wide veranda sipping mint juleps and taking an occasional stroll out to pet my horses or pluck roses. They moved in closer as I talked about life on the farm. At some point the conversation turned to cooking, and I mentioned what a convenience food canned venison is.
“Oh really? Where can you find that?” A perky woman to my right seemed to think that I picked it up at some special wild game abattoir, so I told her about the twenty quarts of canned deer meat in my root cellar. Her eyes grew wide as I explained the yearly hunting rituals in my small mountain community. I don’t hunt, but many of my female friends do. One of them even has a chandelier hanging over her pool table that’s made of antlers from all the deer she’s killed. As I described my life, I began to sense that stories of “Meg’s odd sister” would be the topic of discussions in the living rooms of Atlanta for some time to come. I shared how to process a deer and then someone asked what my husband and I raise on our farm. I answered that we raise cattle and sheep and the occasional pig.
“Do you ever eat any of the animals you raise?”
It occurred to me then, that what had become a natural occurrence for me was considered strange to an American society that has moved away from its rural roots. Most of my friends raise their own meat, or buy it from someone they know. It is not unusual for me to trade a couple of T-bones for a freshly killed chicken or two. You might be shocked to hear my children ask, “Is this hamburger from Radar (a blind steer we raised to steak size) or Butterbags?” I love knowing exactly what my steak or ham slice or chicken breast ate before it became my meal. When my city friends express dismay at my ability to eat an animal I’ve seen, I tell them that the animals on our farm live a good life, with all the food, water, shade and space to roam that they need. And when they die, it’s quick and for a purpose. I think most humans would feel blessed to have as much.
As the party ended, one of the husbands slipped over to talk to me. He looked wistful.
“Do you ever let people come up to visit?”
“Sure,” I said.
“So, could I come up there and camp sometime, and maybe fish or help out on the farm a little?”
I said “yes,” but I knew he’d never make it. He just needed a dream. I think most men are hunter-gatherers at heart.
Based on what I read in magazines and hear on the news, there seems to be a growing interest in America for what you might call a “simpler life.” People fantasize about living on farms and getting “back to nature.” I have an idea that might start them in the right direction. They could adopt an animal, or maybe only a share of an animal, from our farm. Make no mistake; this would not be a rescue adoption. The eventual fate of the chosen porcine, ovine, or bovine creature would be the family supper table. The adoption fee would include the cost of feeding and raising the animal, the fee for killing and processing it, and the privilege of visiting our farm. Adoptive families could drive out to the country to picnic and watch their cow or hog or lamb enjoy another fine day. The children could help scatter hay and the adults could help bring the animals in for vaccinations or routine care. Those who wished to sweat and really experience life on the farm could ride a hay-wagon under a blazing August sun, or muck out a shed full of manure, or peel and drive fence posts, or well….. you get the picture.
Then one day, in the winter, a big box of frozen meat would arrive on the family’s doorstep. And, as they sat around the table that night, enjoying a beautiful sirloin steak, the family would say, “This is Henry, and isn’t he fine?” because they would know where that steak came from and remember the small part they played in bringing it to their table. They would have earned the right to call themselves hunter-gatherers.