Compassion and Hunting: How can killing for food be something healthy?

by: Sara on 03/31/2014
Posted in: Guest Posts

We are excited to announce the publication of Miles Olson's, the author of Unlearn, Rewild, second book, The Compassionate Hunter's Guidebook, Hunting from the Heart.

The book not only addresses the “how-to” with detailed instruction on how to approach, harvest, process, preserve and prepare animals for food in a responsible, reverent and ecological way, but also asks why one would choose to hunt, and delves into the profound, humbling and serious reality of death, killing and the transformation that hunting brings one in to contact with.

This blog was original published at milesolson.net on January 11, 2014 and is reprinted here with permission.

I recently finished writing a book about hunting, entitled ‘The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook’.

Or wait, that’s not quite right. Let me say it another way:

I recently finished writing a book about compassion, nature, food and empathy, entitled The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook.

That’s a bit more complete. Both of those statements are true, and actually complete on their own, but what compelled me to write this book, and what drew me into connecting to the earth and harvesting my own food in the first place was less the mechanics of a superficial act, and more the truth that could be met through it and the implications of it. These two aspects are intertwined and inseparable, but one is the much more physical, visible and obvious aspect, while the other is more subtle.

For some people it might seem pointless that I am making this distinction. To them, it is obvious that hunting is something that inherently implies this kind of deep impulse for integrity and personal connection to what one eats. Otherwise one would get one’s meat from a drive through. Right?

For many others, though, the idea that eating any meat at all, and particularly the idea that hunting for oneself could be something healthy, sustainable and truly humane, is a joke. How foolish does someone have to be to think that killing an innocent wild creature for their food is somehow healthy. Right?

Well, umm, as foolish as me.

What’s interesting is that I was once fully on board with the belief that any and all killing of animals for food was unnecessary and shameful. I only ever managed to actually stay on a plant based diet for about a month at a time, because in my younger days I was a vagabond and a scavenger who compromised ideals to hunger, but my ethics were well defined and well laid under the influence of smart, forward thinking, vegetarians like Morrissey and Thoreau.

This only shifted when my interest in living on the land grew. I saw that if I wanted to eat as locally as truly possible, to the point of eating my then-ideal diet of fully wild-harvested and gardened food, I was going to have to adjust my ethics. I recognized that catching a salmon and preserving it for my dietary protein was in some ways more clear and clean than getting plant based food from a grocery store; food that had been trucked in from a distant farm (using fossil fuels, which are composed of dead animal bodies – not exactly vegan), where its cultivation may have actually resulted in the inadvertent death of many creatures (from herbicide use, habitat loss or most likely getting chomped up or smushed by a piece of farm equipment). I relinquished my old framework for a new one that saw how killing a creature to completely use its body for food, was something healthy and even beautiful.

And yet it was the same impulse driving me as had been before; the desire to live with integrity, to not contribute to the suffering and misery of innocent, beautiful living beings.

I began learning how to kill, process and prepare animals for food, driven by the same impulse that my vegan friends and role models were moved by and had stirred in me.

Now, I don’t think that everyone needs to hunt or harvest their own wild food in order to live with integrity. That would not be sustainable in very many places, but I also don’t

think many people will actually ever want to voluntarily do such a thing, so it’s kind of a moot point. Still, it is worth saying that I’m not interested in a of doctrine of rights and wrongs, where if you don’t eat certain foods or live a certain way you are morally weak and cross some imaginary line of judgment. I actually don’t give a crap about such things. I still see the beauty and integrity in my old heroes like Thoreau, as well as countless others who turn away from eating flesh for very good reasons.

The truth is, there are many truths, and each person has their own truth to discover for themselves. For many, part of this journey can involve stepping intimately into the cycle of life, death and nourishment that killing one’s food is. It is a complex, humbling and profound thing when one approaches it with respect, reverence and an open heart. And at a fundamental level, it can be one of the most healthy, sustainable and humane ways of getting food.

So that’s my case: can hunting be compassionate and healthy? Yes. Can it be cruel and senseless? Definitely.

There is an entire range, a whole spectrum of what hunting is or can be. On one end of this spectrum one treats the lives of animals as cheaply as characters in a video game, and on the other, well, one humbles oneself to the beauty and sanctity of that life. It isn’t about making a sport out of killing, it’s about food. This latter approach is what interests me….

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