Friday, November 21, 2008

"How can you eat that?!"

Meet Peter the buck. I call him Peter partly as a nod to REM band member Peter Buck, and partly because I photographed him in between bites of our abandoned pumpkin. Get it? Pumpkin eater?

But his name is not important. The important thing is that he is limping a bit these days, and one of his antlers appears to be shorter than the other. It wasn’t shorter a couple of weeks ago when we first spotted him, and we’re pretty certain it’s the same deer. I guess we can’t be absolutely sure… It’s not important. He’s limping a tiny bit, his antler has been broken off. Has he been hit by a car? That’s a very likely possibility, since the pumpkin photograph location is less than 20 feet from a sharp bend on a busy road—and that, of course, is the favored crossing spot of all the deer that hang out in our yard.

Sometimes we have 5 or 6 deer at once. Mostly doe—the two buck we’ve seen rarely hang with the babes, at least not when we’re looking. But they’re all regulars at our “club.” Why? They probably ran out of space, quite frankly. Plus, they know there’s easy pickin’s in our neighborhood (my animal-loving neighbor feeds them, so even when gardens aren’t blooming they have reason to pass through).

The point is, we humans are crowding them out with all our pretty little suburban neighborhoods. We’re driving big, heavy, metal killing machines across all their favorite pathways. And a lot of them are getting hit, maimed, or killed. I won’t lie: I feel really bad about that, about all the shrinking habitats of all the beautiful wildlife around us. The last time I saw an injured doe lying in the street, I was literally sick to my stomach as I called the game warden; it’s a horrible sight, the flailing limbs, the fruitless attempts to lift the head…just sickening.

But as bad as I feel, it will not keep me from eating venison. That’s right, deer flesh. I eat it. I’ve eaten it since I was a kid.

Before you slap a “barbarian” label on my forehead, let me explain myself a bit. If you’re a vegetarian and you’re reading this, I honestly have no qualms with your non-meat choices. I am pretty certain that the original, Garden-of-Eden diet did not include animal flesh. It wasn’t needed. That came around after we got kicked out of there. With some research and attention, a person can live a meatless life and be much healthier than most of us jowly, restaurant-abusing Americans. I was getting pretty good at going meatless until I got married (man want meat); plus, the whole diabetic issue isn’t helping—I’ve found very few foods that have the same hold-me-over power as meat—but I’m sure if I had limitless funds and my own dietitian, I could be meatless. I’d miss meat, especially as a cook, but it could be done. And that would be my individual choice, as it should be.

However, for the meat-eaters out there who dare to ask me the question that titles this post, I say, My dear carniverous hypocrite, have you ever ordered veal or lamb in a fancy restaurant, never giving a second thought to the fuzzy, adorable creature that your meal was in life? Have you ever stuffed a big, fat burger into your face or carved a ham at Christmas or Easter? Enjoyed a steak or a turkey dinner? Because if you have, then you cannot make comments about the barbarism of eating deer meat. I have never walked through a butcher’s workspace, nor seen a cow or pig taken in for slaughter, but how could it be any less awful than watching a deer be gutted prior to transport? Death is death; killing is killing.

And think about this: there’s my little Peter in the back yard, munching on rotten pumpkin and dying grass and relishing the memory of our pole beans from a few months back. If some lucky hunter takes him during season (which is unlikely since he’s in such a protected area), that hunter will get a more-than-half-rack to brag about and a freezer full of whatever meat forms he chooses, and it’ll be lean, healthy meat—no hormones, no chance of mad deer disease, no genetic alterations other than what God himself ordained. Sounds pretty safe, eh? Compare it to your faceless, nameless slab o’ beef (you have to assume they’re telling you the truth about the source animal, right?) that may or may not have been vacuum packed in carbon monoxide in order to keep its fresh color longer than it should…

I ponder at this time every year why some people feel righteously justified in turning their noses up at me. I think it’s founded in our complete separation of man from his food sources. It’s easy to badmouth game-eaters if you’ve never been hungry for a day in your life; honestly, how do any of us truly know what we're capable of eating? Have you ever really suffered from lack of food? I haven't. And how simple to slip into superiority about not eating wild animals when you never have to be confronted with the “civilized” (cough, cough) killing of animals raised purely for meat sales. Honestly, I think most folks would want to throw up after visiting a big, smelly egg farm, right? But those nice, white, clean eggs in their spotless cases are so removed from a chicken’s bottom that no one thinks much about it.

Well, we need to think about it. We need to grow more food in soil that we turn and weed. We need to learn more about what goes into all the ready-to-eat stuff that we consume daily without question. We need to be more responsible eaters in general. And we, as a society, need to stop vilifying the people who consume hunted game—especially when you consider that the naysayers are just as likely to be the very folks who are directly or indirectly responsible for Peter the buck’s shrinking habitat injuries. There’s a very good chance that because he’s injured and there’s limited land for him and his cronies, he won’t make it through the winter.

Now, who’s the barbarian again?

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