Thursday, April 2, 2009

Urban reporter meets urban hunter

I'm still trying to decide what I think about this piece I saw in the Detroit News today about a man who hunts and eats (and sells) raccoons in Detroit.

The story was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charlie LeDuff, who has a series called "Travels with Charlie" (which I'm guessing is is a riff off of John Steinbeck's book, "Travels with Charley").

Personally, I think people who hunt for food are resourceful folks who deserve a little respect. And the subject of this story, Glemie Dean Beasley - a.k.a. "Coon Man" - definitely has his head on straight about the problem with industrial food production in America:

"Coon or rabbit. God put them there to eat. When men get hold of animals he blows them up and then he blows up. Fill 'em so full of chemicals and steroids it ruins the people. It makes them sick. Like the pigs on the farm. They's 3 months old and weighing 400 pounds. They's all blowed up. And the chil'ren who eat it, they's all blowed up. Don't make no sense."

But I can't shake the feeling that the reporter is just having a lot of fun at Beasley's expense - especially when I click on the video and watch him clowning around, dropping into a black Southern drawl (which you might remember earned Hillary Clinton a lot of heat during the primary last year) and even donning a coonskin cap at the end.

Maybe it's all innocent. Maybe I'm just overreacting because it reminds me of how I felt when I lived in Virginia and I'd read stories in the Washington Post about the South. The subtext was almost always, Oh look at these quaint little Southerners!

Or maybe it's my personal rebellion against writers' propensity to disparage those who don't use the English language as cleanly as we do. I really hate that - good grammar doesn't make you smart, and bad grammar certainly doesn't make you stupid.

I guess overall I'm glad the story was written because I'm fascinated to know people like Coon Man exist in a city like Detroit. But I guess I just think they deserve a little more respect.

What do you think, folks?

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Hubert Hubert said...

A linguistic joke comes to mind:

Q: What's the difference between a dialect and a language?

A: A language has an army.

Albert A Rasch said...

It's fine to to "document" the language use, it's quite another to belittle.

On the other hand if you have an agenda, say urban violence, and you wan to show the demise of American Culture and you use the "gutter smack trash talk" to illustrate, that's quite another.

Now the whole question is intent. What did the author intend?

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
The Range Reviews: Tactical
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit

Hil said...

I live in Alabama, and I wouldn't exactly say that Southerners consider rabbit, coon and squirrel "delicacies." Sure, we eat them, but I also ate them growing up in Pennsylvania. And I don't know anyone, Southern or not, who eats coon, although I have hunted with an older gentleman who eats armadillo — which to me is a lot higher on the gross-out scale.

This article does sort of have a bit of a "look at what a spectacle this nut-job is" vibe to it.

SimplyOutdoors said...

While I'd love to think that this article was specifically written to be informative, and non-degrading, I don't think that is the case.

And on a side not, eating raccoon is nasty. I can handle squirrel,but I have to draw the line on 'coon.

NorCal Cazadora said...

From what I've heard - and what I saw on the video - raccoon is very fatty.

I watch a lot of food shows where the hosts (notably Tony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern) will try anything, and they'll often be surprised by things they think should be gross. Then again, sometimes it really will taste awful to their highly trained palates. What they usually do is lean into the camera and say it tastes awful. But it has a tone of frankness to it, not a belittling or clowning one.

The interesting thing in this story is the difference in tone between writing (where old reporters like me are well-trained) and the video (which is new territory to old print reporters).

The video is where I really started feeling offended. The writing left me unsure.

It's a big debate in journalism how much you "clean up" people's quotes. It's standard practice to tidy up routine grammatical errors for the sake of clarity. But a textbook I've used in my classes says it's also OK to keep language that illustrates a character, as did the quote I excerpted here. What's not at all clear is when it crosses the line from quaint to condescending.

In this case, I think the video makes the condescencion clear.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Simply, I think I need to try raccoon now just so I know what people are talking about. Plus, I'd put money on Boyfriend being able to make it taste wonderful (yeah, yeah, I know I have it good).

But squirrel? That's just yummy. I think it tastes like rabbit. I hate eating around the back and ribs because of all the little bones, but dang, those little buggers have some fat hams!

Eric Fremd said...

God Bless Glemie Dean Beasley! He is a real American. Folks in this country have become just too sterilized. Yes the author may have been a bit demeaning or just grossed out at the thought of eating something other than “chicken”...but it did not faze Glemie. I can’t say I have ever eaten Coon- it looked good to me though. I know I have eaten worse with all my trips to China. My wife is from mainland China- Sichuan, the spicy part of China to be exact. They eat everything in China- makes eating Coon like eating McDonalds. I like the use of the dialect and bad grammar- it better communicates the cultural aspects of the article. Thanks for posting the article, it is a great story about a resourceful urban hunter.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks Eric. I think seeing dialect in the story didn't bug me as much as seeing how the reporter acted on video.

Part of it is that I used to live in the world of reporters, and I know how condescending many of them can be about folkways, because rural life is completely foreign to them. When I was part of a news staff of 400 at the SJ Mercury News, there were, I think, four of us who'd grown up in the country and were familiar with where food actually comes from. We were the Rural Caucus. We could tell some great stories at parties!

gary said...

Concerning raccoon meat, I believe I have only had it once and that was in a stew. My cousin fixed it and it wasn't fatty at all(he may have done a lot of trim work on it)and it was fine grained and very sweet(but here again it may have been what it was stewed in). Would I eat it again? Sure, if I don't have to do the prep work, that could have its negitive effect. I have trouble with any meat prepared, and like a few days between cut up and cooking. Its always been that way.
It may be my perception, but it seems that many reporters take a pride in asking the hard questions or being controversial. It's a basic human tendency we have from birth, 'look at me', and this brings the attention back to them, wither its good or bad. When its done at someone elses expense, thats when it raises my ire.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

The article isn't too bad, the video on the other hand was a disgrace.

Smarmy SCARED city boy fails to make the most of an amazing opportunity.
The coon mans story obviously had so much more to it, but instead of doing his job and reporting on it, he chooses to cover the story in a sniggering schoolboy way. Even backing out of his promise to kiss the coon if the coon man did. Its not often i say this but even those lack wits at Vice magazine could have done a better job.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Man, I LOVE British pejoratives.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Plenty more where that came from

hodgeman said...

After growing up in rural E. Tennessee I can say that the tendency to belittle those of us with a drawl is getting old. A drawl or dialect does little to prove intellegence or competency any more than a Brooklyn accent makes you a Mafia henchman.

Eating coon on the other hand. If Glenn can stomach it then I'd say he's twice the man that Charley is...

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Gotta say this video pisses me off. I walk in both worlds, as an eater of odd things and a career journalist. The reporter is obviously playing games with Beasley; definitely not this Pulitzer winner's finest hour.

What makes it all worse is that I've spent the better part of my life trying to suss out secrets from the Beasleys of the world -- they've forgotten more than I will ever know about whatever it is they do best. As reporters, we are by profession dilettantes and as such we ought to respect those with knowledge we lack. Sometimes we don't, and it makes us all look bad.

As an eater, I'd love to learn from this old man to see what he knows about raccoon - it could be as good as the finest Gucci pork, but we'll never know now because this clown taught Beasley never to trust reporters. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I did not watch the video. My take on the writing was mostly a young man feeling smug and superior to an old man. It made me like Mr. Beasley that much more.

I think the reporter had to write the way he did because he doesn't want to see that he is prejudiced against those of us who hunt.

I liked the way Mr. Beasley spoke. I would sure be more comfortable talking to him, as long as he could understand my strange californian accent.


Bobby Nations said...

Ack, save me from bad writing:

His little Cape Cod is an urban Appalachia of coon dogs and funny smells. The interior paint has the faded sepia tones of an old man's teeth; the wallpaper is as flaky and dry as an old woman's hand.

It only gets worse from there. When he tries to use a 'Southern' voice, I'm reminded of Mark Twain's comment to his wife upon hearing her swear: "You got the words right, Livy, but you don't know the tune"

I was born and raised in South Mississippi, have lived in Alabama, and now in Tennessee. As a child, I spent several years in Brazil, Holland, and Trinidad & Tobago. So I'm familiar with what might be called 'alternative' cuisine by some today. Squirrel, duck, goose, rabbit, dove, squab, venison, elk, mutton, goat have all passed my lips at one time to name only those meats that I know about. Some are better than others, of course, but it mostly depends upon the cook as to whether they taste good or not -- the exception to that rule is elk as I don't believe that there is any way to make elk taste bad. Continuing in the weird food vane, my older brother swears that beaver tastes better barbequed than does pork.

As for racoon, my grandmother loved it, but I sad to say never had the guts to try it. Older folks back home (say the age of Mr. Beasley or older) generally felt it was one of the better tasting meats and hella fun to hunt. Jerry Clower told many stories about hunting and eating it, so there's a certain culture that surrounds the animal (and that also applies to possum).

Frankly, I think that the reporter is a jerk who missed a real chance to learn something. Had he played his cards right, Mr. Beasley might have invited him along on a hunting trip. Now, that's an opportunity that doesn't come around every day, or even every year. The man can flat out play a guitar as well.

Not only did he miss the story, but he was also more than a little rude. In South Mississippi -- well, in most of the South as I know it -- behavior like that would probably end in polite invitation to hit the road long before the food left the oven if not in outright violence depending upon how genteel the host was feeling that day. You just don't go into another person's home and insult them openly. It's simply not done.

Sorry, rant over.

NorCal Cazadora said...

No need to apologize, Bobby. Rants are always welcome here!

Re: "Frankly, I think that the reporter is a jerk who missed a real chance to learn something" - that's almost exactly what Boyfriend said when I showed him the story, because Beasley is precisely the kind of man he's learned a lot from.

tom said...

As I posted over at the air raffle UK rabbit hunter's place:

My two cents. Reporter comes across as smug and the Coon Man doesn't seem stupid and he hams it up while making a bit of fun of the reporter that I don't think the reporter catches and likely got paid for making fun of the reporter on television too, he was just subtle about it. American colored folk have learned how to be subtly fun of whitey for a long time. I was working a rich old white people wedding anniversary as a sound engineer for the band here in rural Texas once and I heard a old money white lady ask a black caterer "You got any more crackers?" and he said "Look around the room..." as he went to get more crackers for her gumbo. Sailed right over her head. I about fell over laughing.

Never expect TV reporters to be accurate, fair, or balanced or even polite and you will never be disappointed.


tom said...

Oh, as a Texas resident, I MUST say, armadillo is tasty and it's no more odd than eating snakes and gators. Possum on the half shell!

Any animal can be made to be tasty to SOME people. I realize not everybody will agree all animals and fishare tasty. Hell, I have a friend that doesn't like catfish but I have yet to see a dearth of all you can eat catfish suppers around Texas. They actually seem quite popular.

You can also ruin elk with stupid marinades, bad choices of seasoning, and poor cooking. I know, I've done it. I made a particularly horrid elk thai-stlye curry once. Still edible but it was the sort of edible where you ate it not to waste the food with a grimace muttering to yourself "I'm never gonna do that THAT way again." I'll give you that it's hard to ruin an elk steak unless you burn it if you're just cooking steaks.

I'm an omnivore that grew up around a lot of Air Force types mostly and some of other branches that had all done SERE type schools.

You know why you never dare a person who's been to SERE type schools to eat a bug, right?

He'll eat it every time.


NorCal Cazadora said...

All good points, Tom - both about race and food.

And I love that cracker joke!

tom said...

I had to run to the nearest exit to the sound and gear van and laughed till I had tears in my eyes and the guy managed to do it deadpan and kept working. He was cool as a cucumber. I've no idea how he managed to be. Remember that for the rest of my life AND he didn't even offend her!

tom said...

On a food note/question to sophisticated game cook hunter people that been in Field and Stream :-)

There's some exotic-ish hogs that got on my friend's dad's horse ranch (Probably escaped from one of the neighboring exotic high fencer ranches but if they're on your property and not a native species they're yours in Texas).

Their footprints look sorta funny compared to javelina or common feral/wild hog, sorta narrower and more pointy, and they have kinda whitish stripes sorta around their necks and are brownish black in coloration otherwise.

Anybody know what these beasts are and if they'd be tasty. We're thinking about shooting one to see. Probably some European or Asian type of pig.

Nobody's been fast enough with a camera to get a picture of one on the ranch yet or had a rifle handy and they seem skittish but there's four or five of them out there. Be shameful to not eat one if they're yummy. Kinda mediumish sized for feral pigs. Couple hundred pounds if that.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Weird. I'd guess maybe a Eurasian-feral domestic mix, but I've asked Michael of Native Hunt and Phillip of the Hog Blog to weigh in.

tom said...

Thanks. Ranch hand friends can text message their GFs while driving over boulders and stumps but they can't take a dang picture with their camera phone when they see an odd pig and I didn't have a camera phone with! I don't like phones.

Technology has it's ups and downs...Be curious if anybody has any idea what they are but we aim to probably shoot one. Like Scratch and Sniff but different? Shoot and See!

If we get one I'll take a photo with my good 35mm camera and tell you if it tasted OK.

Thanks again,

tom said...

Bass Player hunting buddy is crashing on the couch tonight after a gig in one of those things they call cities I avoid in Texas because he wasn't up for drivin home after and I was close...blah whatever...

His take as a white man who probably grew up in the most racist part of the State of Texas ever invented:

The reporter thinks he's being funny, coon is good eatin', I bet that feller funned reporter more by making sure the coon he fed him tasted bad even if he cooks it well (after watching the part of the downing of the glass of wine after like a bite of 2oz of meat) cos he was smart aleck-like and deserved it. Send me a URL for when I get home.

That's our Texas vote.

Watch the musk glands and the fat but coon is good eatin'. I consider two friends that hunt together and such a "quorum".

native said...

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, Br-ere' Rabbit, Tom Sawyer etc. etc.
They all had ethnic dialect written within the context of the stories.

Not offensive if read with that in mind!

Although, you say the video sort of pushed it over the edge?

Any, meat can be made to taste good if seasoned and cooked correctly Holly, you know that!

Remember, the early Native Americans referred to white people as: (The Long Pork)..............

Josh said...

Born and raised in Isleton, California, I have grown up all too familiar with the condescension that city folk, and in particular the supposedly free progressive rag from Sacramento (it rhymes with Snooze & Review), have for country.
Last month, the LA Times ran a piece calling Isleton the most troubled city in the state. On the cover of the paper was a photo from last year's LA riot, replete with rows of police in riot gear and full-body shields in phalanx. Isleton has never had need for riot police. As simple and backwards as I am, the irony was still not lost on me.

So it comes as no surprise to me to see something of this caliber. It always pains me, though.

Angus Cameron of the LL Bean Game and Fish cookbook does say raccoon is greasy, and takes some trimming. But he's still got recipes for it (and possum, and beaver). And that quotation about the blown-up kids is so absolutely dead-on right that I'll probably blog about it.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Boyfriend tells me the "they's all blowed up" line is really making the rounds - in a respectful way - on the food blogs.

I've not cruised all the food blogs, but I did just find 148 hits for that exact quote in a google search.

Phillp said...

Great discussion, and I really haven't anything of value to add.

Tom, I expect you are pretty sure what a javelina looks like, but the white collar sure makes me think collared peccary... although if they're pushing 200lbs, then it's not bloody likely.

Most likely just another strain of hog. Pure Eurasians are pretty distinctive looking, but I don't recall their tracks being significantly different than a feral. Michael is a lot more familiar with the euros, though...

As to coons, I don't think I've tried it yet, but wouldn't be opposed. Same for possums. We were raising one to eat many years ago, but by the time it got big enough my dad had made a pet of it. It escaped shortly thereafter, most likely to pursue the time-honored possum tradition of trying to bite the tires off of moving cars.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, you added plenty! "...the time-honored possum tradition of trying to bite the tires off of moving cars." LOVE IT!

native said...

From your description that hog sounds like it could be one of two which comes to mind.

(S. Barbatus of Borneo (=longirostris) or (S. Verrucosus of Java.

Both are a "warty pig" and have tufts of long white hair emanating from the warts which are located below the eyes, and in some very old males, several more warts creeping up around the neck area.

This long (2' or more) hair tufts in these older males sometimes will blow in the breeze or wrap around the neck and give the "stripped" appearance of which you mentioned.

I have inspected them up close and the hooves are definitely much more narrow than our typical Eurasian and Feral crosses which we have here in the states.

This narrowness of hooves for the longest time has had scientists arguing over whether they are actually in the swine family or belonging to the Deer family.
I haven't heard if the argument is settled or not, much like the argument here between the scientists concerning whether or not our common Foxe's are Canine family of Feline family because or the retractable claws.

I am in full agreement with you, Kill it and get a closer look at it! L.O.L.

tom said...

Thanks, native. Will do our best to "autopsy" one the week following the Denton gun show!

Wonder if they'll fall for the crap beer and deer corn in a trench covered with gravel "bait" like bushpigs do?