I don’t particularly like the pop term “foodies”, but when a phenomenon involves New York and Berkeley, I am tempted…
Even as the coursing battle heats up, no fewer than three books defending hunting and “scavenging” (to use the author’s own term) in the strongest terms are being published, virtually simultaneously.
Pehaps the wildest of the three– and the only one I have yet read in its entirety — is Steven Rinella’s The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, in which the author, a twenty – something writer from Michigan who grew up hunting and fishing, finds a copy of Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire. Rather than thinking it a musty curiosity, he sees it as a challenge, and decides to plan a year’s hunting and gathering inspired by its recipes, culminating in a three-day feast at his home in Miles City, Montana.
The book is by turns hilarious, dead- serious, and touchingly innocent (Steve, the “swallow” of Escoffier’s bird’s nest soup is an Asian swift which makes its nests from saliva– it is no wonder that boiling a Cliff swallow’s nest yielded you nothing but warm mud!) But it is an intrepid account, and as good a defense of real eating and acceptance of mortality and killing as I have seen in a lifetime of interest in the subject. Rinella hunts for crayfish and frogs and snapping turtle in his native Michigan, big game in Montana and Alaska, eels in New York, and lingcod and octopus on the Alaska coast. He has an almost incomprehensibly hard time getting street pigeon squabs, and then being allowed to kill them by various sentimental friends– perhaps the funniest running subplot.
I think the book’s three highest points are his encounter with Ron Leighton, a Tshimian indian who has honed the perfect subsistence lifestyle in coastal southeast Alaska; an elk hunt in Montana; and the culminating feast. The elk hunt is particularly remarkable because it made me realize how little space even the best “hook & bullet” writers– Tom McIntyre, John Barsness— are given by publishers these days to tell their tales. Rinella, not constrained by magazine word length restrictions, gives a wonderful account of the glory and the drudgery, the boredom and the exaltation, and finally the sheer slog of getting a big animal out of the back country.
As for the feast, he brings it off. The only spoiler was the last minute attendance of– I am not making this up– a militant Vegan chain- smoking “health nut” girl invited without permission by a guest, who spent three days making scathing remarks about the food and people. I feel old. Not only would I have asked her to leave– I don’t think her friend would have received another invitation either.
See Steve’s site for more.
The other books are by writers my readers may know. Michael Pollan, author of among other books the wonderful Botany of Desire, has a new volume coming out that I have already pre- ordered: The Omnivore’s Dilemma. An excerpt, on his hunting wild pig with California chefs, appeared here today in the New York Times. It too starts funny, but to serious purpose. He beginds with an itense description of how alive and aware he feels when hunting; backs off, says that he always considered such things “hunter’s pr0n* “; then admits what he never knew: they ARE true, and a hunter cannot be ironic about them; but you can only know them from the inside. Read The Whole Thing, and get the book.
Finally, Querencia fave Anthony Bourdain also has a new one coming: The Nasty Bits, which looks to be still another choice batch of hard core food- writing. Its particular relevance here is that it begins with what one reviewer calls “..the horrifying opening passages, where he joins an Arctic family in devouring a freshly slaughtered seal”, and includes such things as ” restaurants that still serve stomach-turning if palate-pleasing dishes, such as New York’s Pierre au Tunnel (now closed), which offered tête de veau, essentially “calf’s face, rolled up and tied with its tongue and thymus gland.” ” Just sounds like real food to me..
Which brings us ’round again to Anamall Rites*. The exact relevance of these books to our struggle over “small issues” like coursing is that there is obviously an intelligent audience of eaters out there who WANT real, tasty, ecologically sound food, from Bay Area chefs like Paul Bertolli (who hunts) to the “Crunchy Con” crowd, from me in rural New Mexico to Rinella in rural Montana. They strive to understand hunting and to make personal connections with the land and animals. The AR people, sometimes in an unholy alliance with Big Ag (see the NoNais site for one example) want to shut us down, whether we are hunters or small farmers or backyard growers, using everything from propaganda to lies about “food safety” to bird flu paranoia.
Remember these Wayne Pacelle quotes, collected by Borzoi breeder Rey McGehee:
“If we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would…”
“Our goal is to get sport hunting in the same category as cockfighting and dog fighting…”
“We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States … We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state…”
First they came for the coursers…
* These are deliberate misspellings to confuse spam and unwanted ads– I hate seeing ads for “Pee- tah” pop up in the sidebar…