Meat Eater


The deepest relationships you can have in life are with people (particularly the people that brought you into existence) and the things that sustain you, like food. Modernity has fundamentally altered our relationships with both people and food, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.  One thing that has changed in regard to our relationship with food is that we have become incredibly disconnected from the process that brings the food to our plate.  This phenomenon seems to be creating a growing malaise among many of today’s young people, including the difficult to define hipster. [1]  In other words, we have largely forgotten that we are, at our core, hunters (not desk jockeys).

Anyway, I recently finished reading Meat Eater and it’s a personal reflection on hunting chock-full of personal anecdotes detailing Steven Rinella’s hunting and fishing adventures. It’s also somewhat of a philosophical inquiry and spiritual memoir. Or as Rinella himself puts it, “this book uses the ancient art of the hunting story to answer the questions of why I hunt, who I am as a hunter, and what hunting means to me.” It turns out that Rinella believes that spiritually connecting with the food that sustains us is part of what makes us human, and with this, I wholly agree.

According to the British primatologist Richard Wrangham, cooking is what made us human (a review of his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human is forthcoming). I agree with Wrangham, but after reading Steven Rinella’s Meat Eater, I’d also argue that hunting is what allowed us to cook.

Some may say we were “born to run” (which may have some truth depending on how we define “run”), but I think it’s more accurate to say that we were born to hunt. [1]  In light of evolutionary past, it only makes sense then that the desire to grow your own food and hunt/fish your own eat meat is as visceral a desire as there can be.

I have a confession to make though: the economist in me loathes the locavore movement and the idea of hunting/gathering all of your own food.  However, the philosopher in me understands that there are quality differences, and ethical and aesthetic preferences, that aren’t always captured in naive economic and financial analysis. [2] In other words, not everything economists call a commodity is a actually a commodity. The meat from a grain-fed industrially raised cow, for example, may be financially cheaper than wild elk meat (especially if you hunt it yourself), but that the quality of the nourishment provided by the wild elk meat, even if it’s just spiritually, is different. This is something that naive rationalists cannot seem to understand.

Anyway, each chapter of the book depicts a different time in Rinella’s life. In the first chapter, he describes his introduction to hunting at the age of ten for the opening day of Michigan’s squirrel hunting season. The remainder of the chapters cover everything from fishing in the Yucatan to hunting in Alaska. While there are some practical tips included at the end of each chapter, this book is certainly not to be confused for a “how-to” guide.

I’ve had the itch to get into hunting/fishing my own meat for quite some time now. As I pursue that endeavor, it was nice to read Rinella’s account of why he hunts. Before you decide to take on any new hobbies, you probably ought to figure out why you want to do it.  I’ve figured out why I want to hunt and fish, and I hope others do too.


[1] See this Slate article called “Hipsters Who Hunt”.

[2] See my post “The Case Against the Marathon”

[3] See my post “Protect the Environment: Eat Global!”


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