Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shouldn't we be alarmed by this?

I was supposed to go deer hunting this weekend. Every night, I eyed the tiny sliver of moon and imagined all the deer pent up by darkness. They'd be on the move as the sky lightened each morning, looking for food while I sat there waiting for them with my .270, hoping to turn them into my own food.

Sadly, the only time I touched my gun was to put it back in the safe.

But my mind refused to let go of hunting, and here's where it took me:Read more...
I am at best a neophyte at feeding myself. I can kill animals with shotguns or rifles. I can gut them. I can break them down (though not as well as Boyfriend can). I can cook them decently enough - duck best of all (and thank God, because there is no finer game meat than duck cooked properly).

But if you dropped me into the woods with nothing but my wits, would I survive? Without a gun could I possibly get enough meat? Would I know all the plants and fungi I could eat not only to stay alive, but to stay well-nourished?

The obvious answer is no.

And here's the sad thing: I probably know way more about how to feed myself than 90 percent of the population. Hell hardly anyone in our civilization knows how to cook his own food, much less kill it or forage for it.

So here's my point: Doesn't that seem fundamentally wrong?

I mean, what is the most important thing a member of the animal kingdom on this planet needs to know how to do? Feed himself! No brainer, right?

But there are probably billions of people on this planet who, if push came to shove, wouldn't know how to do that.

Why does this interest me?

Two reasons:

One: People who advocate a vegan lifestyle in the interest of "doing no harm" are building a diet based upon the house of cards that is Civilization. You can't possibly get the nutrition you need as a vegan without the machinery of civilization churning out vitamins and meat substitutes (and some would argue you can't get it even then). It is the ultimate un-sustainable diet, an epic fail in the real world that lurks behind the shiny veneer of our 21st century lifestyle.

But that's vegans' business. Many of them acknowledge the rules would change if civilization were to collapse. And gazillions of people live and love a lifestyle that's dependent on the machinery of civilization - no need to single out vegans for their folly.

Then there's Reason No. 2: When non-hunters ask us why we hunt, many of us say it's because hunting brings us closer to nature. Everyone who hunts feels this, revels in it, craves it. Yet the non-hunters who don't understand us often respond, "Can't you connect with nature without killing it?"

Makes sense if you don't hunt. Killing animals doesn't seem synonymous with loving nature.

And while I can't say what being "closer to nature" means to my 14.3 million hunting compadres in America (source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2006 National Survey), I can say what it means to me: It is a step in the right direction of connecting me to what I am, and what I'm supposed to be: an animal who can feed herself without elaborate systems of food production that rape the earth and subject billions of animals to ugly, unhealthy and demeaning systems of husbandry.

Am I liberated from those systems? Moreso than the average American, yes. Where I'd like to be? No.

But this is why I crave hunting. It is a step in a better direction. While I didn't get out there this weekend, I will soon. And it will give me a measure of peace that civilization never can.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Ingrid said...

It is the ultimate un-sustainable diet, an epic fail in the real world that lurks behind the shiny veneer of our 21st century lifestyle.

Holly, I understand your antipathy toward this lifestyle, particularly if you view vegans as sanctimonious hypocrites. But the statement above is hyperbolic -- an "epic fail"? If anything, it's modern fast-food and meat eaters who would be at a loss to survive, given their inclinations toward "foods" they clearly can't replicate, kill and bio-engineer on their own.

I know vegans in San Francisco who are almost entirely self-sustaining on a small patch of city garden -- no intensive-farming. And vegetarians who supplement with home-grown eggs and no meat. I believe there are people whose physiologies work well with no animal protein even though I'm not saying it's a lifestyle that's right for everyone.

To characterize a vegan lifestyle as an epic fail seems inordinately harsh, especially when you consider that in many cases, a conscious and thoughtful approach to local farming does reduce environmental harm. It certainly promotes a more compassionate ethic toward animals. And I would argue that people who eat meat almost always also eat vegetables and grains, compounding whatever damage a veggie-alone diet incurs.

As far as loving nature, I understand why someone who hunts and spends time outdoors loves and feels immersed in nature as much as I do. People like me tend to take exception, however, to the phrasing we often hear from hunters -- which implies that those of us who don't hunt, can't possible be as authentically involved with nature and animals and the cycles of life, as hunters are. That's simply not true.

hodgeman said...

Great post Holly,
Nothing is so humanizing as feeding yourself from the land- gathering your own fish and berries, and small game and the killing of large animals in its own way. I don't enjoy the killing but I find it extemely satisfying to do well.

I'm not where I want to be either but it feels good to get closer.

benedict1 said...


I believe I recommended one time that you study "Meditations on Hunting" by Jose Ortega y Gassett. His insights are penetrating as to why we humans hunt. You are tracking well in my view. If you have read the book, forgive me for being redundant. Next, to get into the fray and broaden the discussion: As to vegan's "living off an acre in San Francisco..." or whatever, this is about as phony as it gets. Take away electricity, running water, motive transportation including bicycles, modern tools, even simple packaging stuff and such and this whole thing is nonsense. People like that live in a world of denial about there ability to be self-reliant in food. I suggest they go out and get some books on what it was like to live in a soddy on the plains of Nebraska in the 1870s or in a log hut in Kentucky in the 1790s to find out what self reliance and supplying all ones needs to survive are really like when they have nothing at all to protect them, their plot of land, their very existence, except their hard work and native intelligence. No hybrid seeds from Burpees either. When homo sapiens begins to appear in great numbers born without incisor teeth and only molars for grinding grains and grass, then I'll sign up. Until then they need to understand that their life is only possible because of the complex civilization that supports it totally.

Mike Dwyer said...

I love what Anthony Bourdain says, which is that, "vegetarianism is a First World luxury".

NATIVE said...

Very well put Holly! I have been getting an unusually large number of newbies and cherry's this past year, and I believe that the concern for the 2012 prediction's have made some people a little uneasy. Henceforward,we will see a lot more of the individuals whose concern to be the "Omnivore" that nature intended them to be, expressing themselves in this direction!
P.S. read ya' all the time, just been busy as you well know! ;-) <3

Holly Heyser said...

Ingrid, wow, your ears must've been burning and not because of this post - I was thinking of emailing you yesterday because our indoor-outdoor cat - the Amazing Harlequin - showed up with a broken tail. Did a little googling, though, and was surprised to find out how serious a broken tail can be. We're getting her to the vet asap.

Regarding your statement: I realize there are many omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike who live more thoughtfully than others in their midst, trying to leave the smallest footprint possible while acquiring food. But I've never heard anyone suggest that veganism would be possible in a hunter-gatherer (i.e., non-agricultural) society, and I've heard many veg*ns say all bets would be off if civilization collapsed, because they'd then be subsistence eaters. I'm also aware that while vegetarian cultures have a long and successful history, veganism is a modern invention.

If you can direct me to some solid information indicating that you can have veganism without agriculture and civilization, I'll read it. That's what I was writing about here - not can veganism be accomplished in an agrarian society, but can it be accomplished when you don't even have that.

And I did say that vegans aren't the only ones dependent on the machinery of civilization. But this was a blog post about where my thoughts took me, and my reflections on the vegan diet were part of that path.

And about loving nature, please understand that I didn't suggest you can't or don't love nature differently. I know your relationship with nature and animals is intimate, and I wouldn't denigrate it. In fact, I didn't denigrate it in this post; all I did was explain what "connection to nature" is to me, and why hunting provides it.

In short, I'm not attacking you. I like you.

Hodgeman: It makes me feel more alive than anything else. More real, less a plasticized product of civilization.

Walter: Oh, yes, I've read Ortega y Gasset twice now, the second reading being much more useful than the first because I've not only hunted more, but thought deeply about hunting much more. On second reading, there were definitely parts that I didn't love, and I still don't buy the oft-quoted line that we "kill in order to have hunted."

Re Ingrid's comments, I don't doubt that a thoughtful vegan could do quite well with a little land, even in fog-locked San Francisco. Ingrid's a good soul, and I always take her words seriously.

But yeah, I'd like to see some proof that vegans could live off of gathering alone in a non-agricultural (i.e., wild) environment. And I still really don't care if that's the diet some people want to follow; I only get upset at the ones who tell me I should live that way, and while Ingrid would probably love it if I didn't kill animals, she doesn't proselytize with me.

Mike: I love Bourdain! I think that statement would work better with veganism, but I still love him because he doesn't pull punches.

Native: Good to know you're lurking! I'm still whining because I was never able to get a spring pig, and I heard they were so fat this year you could actually make bacon with their bellies.

That's fantastic that you're seeing so many newbies! I know I'm seeing it here and there too, but of course, I try to get really involved with new hunters, so of course I would.

I hadn't really been thinking about the 2012 prediction, because if that's right, it doesn't sound like hunting will do us much good. I think the single biggest motivator has been the Omnivore's Dilemma, and all the thought it has spawned.

Josh said...

This is a very interesting and thoughtful post, and one I feel ambiguous about.

On one level, I crave the capability to make it on my own, too. This is an American dream at its most stark: self-sufficiency during some apocalypse. For some reason we crave the barbarian, and I'm no different.

But, as an advocate for sustainable farming, I am constantly hearing naysayers' claim that anti-big ag folks want people to relinquish technology and return to some fake perfect past before ag. industrialization, when people died of pellagra.

The truth of the matter is that good sustainable farming is technologically advanced, it just grows from another branch and connects more directly with historical farming.

To bring it back to your topic, then... to me, your claim that self sustenance is the most important part of the animal kingdom is true, but you write it in the context of solitary animals. We are social animals, and rely upon these connections to feed ourselves. Other creatures are, too - in many ecosystems, half the total biomass is parasitic. Others rely completely upon a "queen" who can't even reach her own mouth. Still others, including our own primate relatives, rely so heavily upon social groups that they do not stand much of a chance on their own.

The truth about an apocalypse (as opposed to The Apocalypse) is that people will continue to rely on each other. We will trade skills and goods, we will quickly grow new bonds that help us all. We may Balkanize out of simple physics, but we won't leave behind the intellectual capabilities we've grown, we'll just apply them to new situations.

So I applaud the folks Ingrid describes as well as your desire to figure out how to live self-sufficiently. But, there is also something to be said for community as a natural thing, and to recognize the bootstrapping as a healthy, helpful American myth, but also to remember that the American dream was built on cooperation and a new kind of treatment of humans as all equal and deserving of life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff.

Lindsay Macomber said...

I just want to live my life without someone trying to convince me that its wrong, or their way is better. I will not judge a person in any way if they are vegan, cannibal, hunter, non-hunter, straight,gay republican or democrat. Just dont shove it down my throat or call me a murderer when I hunt. It makes me happy. Isnt that what it all about..doing what makes you happy?

Phillip said...

Holly, if you'd have come on out there this weekend, you wouldn't have had to spend a beautiful day sitting at the computer pondering stuff like this. And I can guarantee we did NOT eat like vegans.

I think I share most of Josh's take on the idea of, "how would these modern vegans fare in a pre-industrial/pre-agricultural world?"

Besides the obvious fact that you can't go home again, the argument sort of ignores the fact that this modern sensibility (and desensitization) was born out of those old days of privation and hard-scrabble living. There's nothing to say it wouldn't happen again if the slate were wiped clean.

On the short term, of course, many modern humans wouldn't last long in a pure survival scenario. Hell, I don't know how long I'd last.

But the reality is that humans are social animals. We band together around a system of shared knowledge and effort. It's not hard to imagine that in some sort of apocalyptic scenario people would do what they've always done and rebuild a version of civilization.

The point is (since I seem to be wandering), that the general populace doesn't have to be self-reliant survival experts to ensure our survival as a species.

Of course, I do think that we're seeing a huge new mythology growing in which Wild Nature is becoming The Other. This happened before, in the pre-industrial, expansionist era... but in that case, Nature was the enemy to be conquered. In this new myth, Nature becomes the sacred and untouchable. Diametrically opposite philosophies, yet the results are an equally stark (and artificial)separation of ourselves and Nature.

But you've read Ishmael.

Speaking of reading, in the oft-quoted Ortega y Gassett line, I think folks may be trying to read too much into a simplistic statement. One certainly does "kill in order to have hunted," but that only means that the intent to kill is a key piece of the experience. Coming home empty-handed doesn't take away from that experience, because you were still in the field with a predator's mind and, had the opportunity arisen, you would certainly have killed... or you would have chosen not to, which is an equally important aspect of the hunt vs. the slaughter.

Finally, consider this (and I really am all over the board here... sorry)...

At a certain point, evangelicizing the Hunt and the living-off-the-land ethic becomes very similar to those who minister to the faith of veganism. The truth is, under the current population load on this planet, neither lifestyle is sustainable. (One might argue that no lifestyle is sustainable under the current population load, but that's for another time.)

If every modern urbanite took up arms and went into the field, there would very soon be nothing left to shoot. If they then switched to foraging, there would soon be nothing left to pick, dig, or snip.

In other words, if modern society took up your rallying cry, we would still see an epic fail.

It all keeps bringing me back to a pretty pessimistic, long-term prognosis. But as Ed Abbey wrote, "Nature bats last."

Holly Heyser said...

Josh: Drats, Ag-Boy, I knew you couldn't resist raining science on my post-apocalyptic reverie!

But seriously, we're humans, not bees, and while there are always special classes of humans who may be exempt from food gathering (the youngest children, women who've just given birth), I think it's safe to say we are a species in which most of us are supposed to be able to find food for ourselves.

I also agree that as long as we survive as a species, no matter how far fate knocks us back from time to time, we will keep doing the same thing over and over again: agriculture > civilization > technology > implosion.

Lindsay: Fair enough!

Phillip: So, no deer, eh?

But seriously: "Those old days of privation and hard-scrabble living" were borne of agriculture, not hunter-gatherer times.

And you're reading way too much into what I wrote: I'm not saying everyone has to hunt and gather. I don't think I can go back to that, and I know the human population is way above the carrying capacity of the land.

All I'm saying is I think it's disturbing that most members of our species don't know how to feed themselves in the absence of the props of civilization. And I like hunting because it helps me personally bridge that gap - a little - between what I, as a homo sapiens, am meant to be and what I am as a result of what human civilization has become.

And can I say that I LOVE my verification word below: "foodson." Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaa...

Josh said...

Holly, you are fun!

Agriculture grew out of the harder-scrabble existence of hunter-gatherers, except where climate made hunting-gathering more effective (Kalahari, California pre-European, etc.).

I don't think it's the props of civilization, but the over-specialization, that holds back many humans. Also, remember that even with our abundance (to the point that we waste so much food), there are still billions of people who go to bed without enough food in their bellies.

Lindsay, all I will say is, please stop foisting your libertarian ethos on me. Telling me I can't tell other people what to do IS telling me what to do.

Josh said...

Also, and you knew this was coming, if you are going for self suffiency, you'd better get along with the archery business.

hodgeman said...

I'll throw in a couple of random comments about the whole hunter-gather business since this thread is going a bunch of directions for me.

One thing I think is that pre-agriculture hunting societies experienced on a large scale was starvation. Lots of old stories up here about tribes missing the carribou and starving in mass and babies left in the snow because the tribe couldn't support themselves.

Early agricultural societies were pretty familiar with the concept of famine as crop failures and drought were devastating.

I guess that no matter how you cut it- getting enough chow has generally been dicey business for humans. We've been very fortunate in the twentieth century in N. America and Europe when compared to the longer timeline.

I guess it still doesn't generally matter as I enjoy gathering and killing my own food.

David Demola said...

I love this post (mostly because, the whole time I read it, I was thinking "Yeah, I'd pretty much be screwed if our society collapsed." But also because FINALLY someone understands the D&D Druid...


It's a bit odd that we don't teach kids simple hunter-gatherer techniques in schools, as a side-note. The closest I ever came was sheep eyeball dissection...and that was pointless.

I would have rather learned how to properly dress an animal...or at least how to prep for dressing it.

It's just odd that we spend so little time in our school system on giving them a basic "here's what you need to know to survive" education. Has it always been that way?


Holly Heyser said...

Josh: Have you seen the Book of Eli? My favorite line in the movie was when Denzel was describing the world before its apocalypse: "We used to throw away things that we kill for now." Or something like that.

But I really disagree that ag grew out of even the harder-scrabble existence of hunter-gatherers. Agriculture is MORE work than hunting and gathering; fighting and manipulating nature is more work than simply living within it. The only great thing ag has done is allow our population to get bigger and bigger and bigger - which certainly has not been good for our physical or mental health, or the planet's health. Oops, did I say that was great?

In all seriousness, the best I can hope for is that we move deliberately toward a more sustainable version of agriculture and a concern for the planet that leaves habitat for wild animals and even some wild humans. If we can do it ourselves, perhaps we can avoid the apocalyptic smackdown that is entirely predictable. The problem is each of us has a pretty different vision of what a sustainable advanced human population should be - clearly some think it would include an end to killing animals for food. I would not agree with them.

And, by the way Josh, why are you such a Libertarian hater??? ;-) Seriously, most people hate Libertarians because they don't approve of public schools. Only you could be so esoteric!

And Hodgeman: Yes, this is going all over the map! I'm not sure starvation was large-scale with hunter-gatherers. I think it's worse with agriculture because you build up a population that's dependent on this unnaturally large food supply, so when there's a crash in that supply, you have mass devastation.

But yes, I've heard of the leaving-babies-out business - I know that was normal in times of duress anywhere on the planet, not just in the missed caribou migration.

Dicey is right though - that's what it's been for all living things on earth. Only humans seem to think we're owed guarantees.

And David: Schools? Ha! That's what Boy Scouts are for. :-)

David Demola said...

Boy Scouts? I didn't even know about Boy Scouts until I was 16-ish :)

The Hunter's Wife said...

One day I hope to leave a very serious comment to some of the serious discussions that occur here. But for now I will say this - I was a girl scout, I'd never survive if I had to gather my own food, I'd become a vegan for that reason and eat a poisonous berry.

And I do think that is sad.

Phillip said...

Holly, actually my comments re: hard-scrabble etc. were more in reference to Walter's comments than yours... but they all flow as one (be one with the flies... something else you missed out on this weekend).

Before I go all stream of consciousness again (or lack of conscience or conscientiously objectifying or whatever), I think the point of pointing back at that point in time when our species moved from small bands of hunter/gatherer/scavenger to property-owning agrarians (with many steps and missteps in between) was that it happened before and it will happen again. The difference is that next time it will happen faster, because the knowledge of what went before already exists. The know-how, of course, may take a little longer to get to, but the knowledge is already there.

All of this is to say, so to speak, that the end of the world probably wouldn't be the end of the world, unless of course, a la 2012, it really is the end of the world and in which case this is all pretty much moot and barely academic. No?

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

And no. No deer, dear.

Holly Heyser said...

I think you're right about it going faster. It's like when a computer crashes in the middle of a project: Even though you have to start from scratch again, you remember the key steps...

Jody: I think you will always been in that protected class of humans who isn't required to gather her own food. But don't go vegan - something tells me Mark would disown you. ;-)

David: Oh Lord...

Anonymous said...

David, you were probably one of the smart kids. Those of us who were not college "material" took the Ag Science class instead of biology. We raised broiler chickens. They were tasty.

Josh, - then you probably don't like me neither. (Wish I had one of them little pot stirrer icon-thingys)


Ingrid said...

Holly, thanks for defending my integrity in your response. You know I don't advocate for black-and-white solutions.

Having grown up with one side of my family fully agrarian, back several generations, I understand many facets of this eating conundrum. I do, however, advocate strongly for compassion and respect toward animals, domestic and wild. And veganism, at its heart, is a lifestyle that strives toward a more peaceful ethic toward our fellow creatures. I respect that and I value the end.

I just wanted to make a point that a vegan lifestyle, should one choose it, doesn't require the type of industrial damage some hunters like to lay upon it. You've seen some of the back-and-forths on this topic over at Tovar's blog, so you know from which I speak (to use an Ed Grimley-ism).

I tend to agree with Josh on this issue. The total collapse to which you allude presupposes that the only viable lifestyle in the aftermath would be hunting and gathering in nomadic style, without any form of settled, communal influence.

As far as veganism being a modern invention, if modernism pre-dates Christ or the Common Era, then you're right. If you mean in the last few centuries, then that comment is not entirely true. If you look at the Jains, with traditions dating BCE, their adherence to "ahimsa" (non-injury) led to radical vegan food choices. There are references in later works, by Hippocrates, et al, to macrobiotic diets.

In response to Walter Bruning's comment: "As to vegan's "living off an acre in San Francisco..." or whatever, this is about as phony as it gets.

Walter, it's impossible to ignore your disdain here. To accuse me (or my San Francisco vegan friends) of phoniness is unnecessary. You're making assumptions about people based on a gross and erroneous generalization. I guarantee you that my family has undergone trials of the type you describe. In fact, compassion for animals in my circle was born of scarcity and hardship, understanding the preciousness of food in time of war and starvation -- while simultaneously striving to reduce the harm, having witnessed so many atrocities. It may not resonate with your sensibilities, but this type of alternative lifestyle is not the exclusive province of the bourgeois and the ignorant. And neither are hunter/gatherers always of noble, organically-derived and authentic character.

btw, Holly: The [lovely] Northwest has added to my crabby, ear-burning factor since I'm homesick for California and our vast public and accessible wetlands and shorelines, most of which are probably teeming with shorebirds and waterfowl as I write. Of course, along with their arrival comes the onset of waterfowl hunting season which you anticipate with glee and which creates knots in my gut.

You know, I was thinking about this the other day -- how yours and Boyfriend's perspective on that October weekend differs so dramatically from mine. I was ruminating on how hunters talk about hearing the gunshots of their fellow hunters and getting whipped up with excitement. And how those same gunshots have, in the past, brought me to tears for witnessing the outcomes. It was a rather fruitless but still interesting rumination on how perspective colors every single experience in life and death.

(Oh, and as far as the kitty tail goes -- yes! I know this topic came up before. Glad she's seeing a vet.)

Matt Ames said...

Hey Holly!

I spend quite a bit of time in meditation about how I would take care of and protect my family in a post-apocolyptic California. I'm a perinoid S.O.B. when it comes to the future of civilization. Frankly, I think that you're selling yourself short. At first, things would be difficult for you, but I believe that even without a gun, which you know you would have, it wouldn't take you long to come up with a way to trap a wide variety of animals. As a thirteen old boy I studied and tracked a small herd of deer that lived near me. Believe it or not, way before 911 or global warming I was thinking about this stuff and at thirteen had figured out a flush and ambush technique to trap deer using nothing more than a short piece of rope and a survival knife. I never killed the deer, but I wanted know that if I ever had to, I could catch them.

That's just one example of things that you would come up with while truly surviving on your own. You can survive in the foothills of the sierra nevada mountain range fairly easily without even having to get into the nasty edibles that Bear Grylls loves to show us that he'll eat. I've caught trout out of a stream using unripe blackberries for bait. Trapping is something that will sustain to a degree that not many of us put a lot of thought into. Seriously Holly, think about how easy it would realy be to weave a crawfish trap out of wild grape vine. And think about how many other things you could trap with it. Your guns and ammo would get us by until we fine tuned the techniques that we would use with having the ammo.

Okay, enough of my babling. There's my 2 cents.

Holly Heyser said...

Ingrid, I think part of the problem here is that I was using "sustainable" as an older, more generic term - i.e., can one sustain a vegan lifestyle in the absence of civilization - rather than as the code it has become for "sustainable agriculture." I agree and understand that plenty of vegans try very hard to avoid products of the type of agriculture that's wrecking the planet.

Re the Jains, I don't know much about them, or how widespread veganism might've been within Jain culture. Worth knowing more, I think.

Re perspective: I can easily slip into your perspective. All I have to think of is someone feeling joy at the thought of stalking and killing my little kitty Giblet. I have constrained the animals that I consider "family" - the ones I protect. Your family unit is quite a bit broader than mine.

And speaking of kitty: Giblet's sister Harlequin's tail problem is just a sprain - thank God. I had fears of something so bad amputation would be required, and it would be sad to have to do such a thing to such an elegant body as hers.

Matt, interesting point! And I sure know how to trap doves now.I think it's the plant side where I'd worry more. But then again, even more incentive to make sure Hank survives the apocalypse. If not, I'd at least have his upcoming book...

It totally does not surprise me that you would obsess on such things. I come from mountain people too - the kind who would rather survive with as little contact with civilization as possible. That is why my dad left a sweet computer engineering job in 1975 - he wanted to get the hell out of L.A. and was willing to pay any price (and did) to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Not hunting, but raising/growing lots of plants, trees and animals for food.

SimplyOutdoors said...

As with all of your posts, Holly, this one is definitely generating one heck of a conversation. I've read through a good bit of it, but, unfortunately, don't have the time to read all of it.

Bottom line for me: I love hunting, because it does require a certain mindset, and because there isn't a better feeling then being able to - actively, not passively - supply food for our and our family's table.

And, while I don't think that anyone in today's modern society could truly "life off the land", I do think that hunting puts us one step closer.

It provides us with a connection to nature, as well as to our ourselves, which is second to none.

Josh said...

Jean, if you are referring to my libertarian comment, it's just a tiny crusade I have - pointing out to libertarians that they are telling people what to do, too. There's no way around it when you are talking ethics, but for some reason, libertarians feel they get free rein to tell other people that they don't have the right to say what they want. It's extraordinarily ironic to me.

Holly, I'll have to respectfully disagree with your hunter-gatherer perception. Except in those few places where climate/geography both provided enough food variety and eliminated the greatest benefit to agriculture (consistency), ag. has been adopted by every human society.

For example, agriculture only took hold in the southeast of ancient California, because the variety of foods was sufficient to support a large number of folks - in fact, the highest density of American Indians anywhere in North America - and included a foraged staple that could be stored (acorns, 60k tons which were being harvested each year by the time the Spaniards arrived). It also had such harsh weather conditions that agriculture could not take hold until we had enough technology to dramatically alter the landscape.

However, in most places, agriculture provided a consistency of necessary staples due in large part to storage.

Holly Heyser said...

Josh, I didn't say that ag hasn't been adopted by every human society - I'm well aware of that, as well as the fact that agricultural societies have systematically either deliberately slaughtered wild humans, or just eliminated their habitat by virtue of ag's never-ending need for land.

And I disagree with your final point: The human population thrived and expanded consistently for 190,000 years before the advent of agriculture. I don't think inconsistent food supply posed one single tiny threat to our species; to individual members, tribes or even bands, maybe, but to the species? Never. We didn't need agriculture. We just wanted it - like everything else we do at the rest of the planet's expense.

I know you're an ag fan, and I understand ag is necessary if even a fraction of our population is to carry on. But I'm a hunter-gatherer fan, and I just don't think it can be argued that we needed ag, or that ag was good for anything but making our population grow beyond the means contained within nature.

Yes, it's grand that you and I can spar like this virtually, enabled by the wonders of technology. It's a hell of a lot of fun. And no, I don't think I'm ready by a long shot to leave this grandiosity behind. But I can't pretend for a second that any of it is, on the whole, good or necessary.

Hubert Hubert said...

Gearing one's self up to survive an imagined situation in which all human structures of interdependence have broken down - to my mind at least - makes sense.

And 'sense' here means that the evidence for the failures of human fellowship is not hard to find.

Less easy to hold on to though is the, in effect, faith position that despite all the evidence still puts its trust in other people. Where is the hard evidence for doing this?

So I do think that there is a element of irrationality in giving one's self into the net of inter-relatedness. It doesn't make sense - but despite this, perhaps it's still right?

Forgive me, but the loaves and fishes thing comes to mind. The sensible thing, the logical thing might've been for each of those 5000 folk to make their own dinner arrangements - and miracles be damned.

Perhaps like them we have to risk the very evident possibility of an 'epic fail'?

There's no reason to stop hunting while we do this, though...


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Holly -- I think my short answer is no, we shouldn't be alarmed.

Getting away from feeding ourselves is what enabled civilization in the first place. Agriculture meant that one person could feed many, and that meant that those other people, since they were being fed, could focus on other things. Like inventing new machines, studying the planets, doing science experiments, writing books.

The odds that any of us are going to have the rug of civilization pulled out from under us, and have to live off the land, are diminishingly small. Spending time, effort, and money developing skills to guard against extremely unlikely scenarios is not a good use of resources. (Besides, if the apocalypse DOES come, I doubt mushroom identification skills will make the difference. It'll be total chaos, and I suspect the only thing that will help will be having really good firearms.)

Counting on the idea that civilization will continue seems entirely reasonable to me.

I think that those of us who hunt, fish, and forage do it primarily because we find it interesting, constructive, and satisfying.

Holly Heyser said...

Hubert Hubert, I think we have no choice. I think this is what we are - a species that is incredibly clever, will never be content for long with the status quo, and will always push for more. Even my revered hunter-gatherers were constantly innovating and growing in population, albeit at a much slower rate than post-agriculture.

Tamar, you're just so practical! But tell me this: Why do we find it satisfying?

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

So, you think I don't know that 'practical' is a synonym for 'boring?' Ah, well -- if the shoe fits ...

As to why we find it satisfying, I think that's the crux of it. It's because feeding ourselves is a human imperative, and we're driven to do it at the brain-stem level. Working hard to grow, hunt, fish, or gather food leaves us satisfied in a way that nothing else I've experienced ever does. That's why I do it -- but I'm not kidding myself that it'll see me through the apocalypse.

Holly Heyser said...

LOL, practical is NOT a synonym for boring. Hell, even practical shoes have gotten pretty awesome. I just like how you look at things - you have a clear style of thinking, and even though it's not the way I think, I enjoy reading it.

And the answer to why we find hunting/foraging/growing satisfying is precisely why I think it's alarming that so few people do it.

Phillip said...

Hubert wrote:
"Less easy to hold on to though is the, in effect, faith position that despite all the evidence still puts its trust in other people. Where is the hard evidence for doing this?"

I think it's arguable that the "hard evidence" is in the success of our species and the massive growth of "civilization". Without the shared knowledge, effort, and resources none of this would have existed. There's evidence of shared labor and responsibility that goes as far back as the history of mankind.

On a different level it's not hard to see in any disaster situation.

As misanthropic as some of us may be, the real fact is that people do tend to band together and work toward common goals and survival. There's no good or logical reason to think it wouldn't happen in an apocalyptic scenario. It is the nature of our Nature.

hodgeman said...

The "Why" of the we're getting somewhere.

"Why" I enjoy hunting, fishing and foraging when others don't is a really intesting question.

I enjoy it at a very fundamental level- maybe its a brain stem issue but maybe not.

I think more people don't enjoy hunting, fishing and foraging because the skills required to do so succesfully are getting more and more out of alignment with our society in general. Patience? Who needs it these days, swipe your card and GO. Deal with multiple outtings filled with misery and no success? Buy it online in your jammies and delivered next day.

I think our society is getting more out of tune with how nature works... and to our discredit we tend to think societally that we can change that.

Gears are whirring now...

Josh said...

Holly, I think we're talking past each other. I don't think I at any time during these comments made a value judgment - I don't think I said I was a fan of ag., or thought it "superior" to hunting/gathering, or anything of the sort. I was thinking from an efficiency position. I took your comments to mean that you thought hunting/gathering was economically more efficient than ag., and therefore ag. wasn't worth it.

I reserve comment on value judgments between the two, but I still stand behind the idea that ag. is much more efficient in almost every climate, and that this is why humans adopted it... not because they merely wanted to.

Holly Heyser said...

Hodgeman, I think another reason people don't hunt/gather/grow is that we have filled our time with other pursuits.

It used to be that our "job" as hunter gatherers was to spend about 17 hours a week gathering food, and the rest of the time in leisure or community activities. Now we spend 40+ hours per week on a job that pays for food (acquired quickly at the store), housing, etc. After work we take the kids to soccer, ballet or tae kwon do, and then we all watch movies together on our awesomely enormous HD TVs (OK, except for the work, none of this describes me, but you get the picture).

As someone who's new to hunting, and who works actively to help other adults get into hunting, I have to tell them honestly that it takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money, unless they live in a place where they can hunt from their back porch. Many people don't have much of either to spare. Neither do I, but I do it anyway.

I don't know that I've met anyone, though, who would absolutely dislike gathering food. Hell, my friend Hellen hates effort that causes her to sweat, and she hates mud, but she loves duck hunting - something about it is worth it to her.

A lot of people, when I tell them I hunt, don't disapprove, but say, "Oh, I could never do that." I tell them they'd be surprised what they can do - and what they'd enjoy about it.

I think most people are just so disconnected from nature and even food that they can't envision themselves doing what we do, and they don't have mentors who can enrich their vision or guide them through the process.

Then again, some of them may just be happy to spend all their time playing on their iPhones.

And hey, Phillip, nice comment. The times I love people the most are in disasters or other times of extreme need. We're at out best when we focus on the community's needs, rather than our own (and luckily for us, focusing on the community is good for ourselves).

Josh, we're definitely missing each other a bit here. But I stand by my essential premise: In my research, I've learned that hunter-gatherers spend far less time on food gathering/production than agriculturalists. I'm not a terribly religious person, but I think the Bible got it right: agriculture is toil, and while I don't believe we're being punished because Eve picked and ate the wrong fruit, I do believe we had it better before we got into this "sweat of our brow" business.

Agriculture is an efficient way to feed a big population. The question is why do we need our population to be so big in the first place?

Phillip said...

Thanks, Holly. Once in a while I get something right.

You pose the question, "Agriculture is an efficient way to feed a big population. The question is why do we need our population to be so big in the first place?"

I think the more germane question is, since our population is so big in the first place, how do we go forward from here? Is agriculture, as it's currently practiced, sustainable in the long run? It's not likely that the planet's resources can hold up to a return to the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. What next?

Anonymous said...

Hunting skills are a small subset of survival skills. Still a nice thing to have, though.

Josh, the libertarian issue will have to wait for a more appropriate time and place to spar. Suffice it to say that there are folks on all the fences and sides of fences that prefer the the sound of their own voice.

I've always figured if it is civil unrest/war, that I would be dead in the first round. This means I worry about it a little less. If you are talking disease,(with could also be war) then I am probably dead, too.

As for the temporary inconvenience of earthquake, etc. I would be fine as long as the goobermint doesn't try to come along and help me.

I think that we who hunt, may better understand our place in the cycle of life to death to life and again. We know that there will come a time when our bodies feed the animals and plants of this earth and that this is the way it is suppozed to be. I think there is an acceptance of the blood bond between all life.

I think if I was stuck in a survival situation that I would learn to eat bugs and right now that just sounds sooooo gross.

In the meantime, I know my neighbors and get along pretty well with them.

In the 1989 earthquake, we walked our block to check up on our elderly neighbors and shut the gas off for them. We brought our little 12volt TV out so everybody could watch the news.

I will ask a friend who has done vision quest if she knows any old stories on why we stopped moving and started planting. You would think there would be songs somewhere that would explain it.

Just a few random thoughts.


Holly Heyser said...

Phillip: You're asking a lot for one blog post.

Jean: LOL, I thought you were going to say, "I know my neighbors and think they'd taste pretty good too." It's definitely too early in the week to be this punchy!

Phillip said...

Why bother asking if you're not going to ask a lot?

Holly Heyser said...

Phillip, don't you have some hunting to do or something?

Anonymous said...

Don't confuse neighbors with looters....


Holly Heyser said...

Oh hell no, I've heard looters taste terrible!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and all that processed food is bad for ya, anyways...

I guess I just have a bit of a troublemakers streak, don't I?


Josh said...

Phillip, most of our current ag. practices are not sustainable, but there are sustainable agricultural practices that can feed our projected population high of 9 billion.

Holly, I've never heard an interpretation of ag. as the punishment for our Fall. I've always read it as everything outside of Eden being toil and hardship.

Anonymous said...

NorCal Cazadora, David Demola, et al...

After reading all that, I think I still remember what prompted me to post here...

Holly, much thanks for your wonderful blog.When it comes to food, my mom was a veggie because her parents served her pet goat for dinner and thought it food for jokes.

My father was a sharecropper's son who often went to bed hungry, and hated his first job shooting crop eating birds. But he loved meat, and taught me to fish.

I've not yet learned land hunting, still hoping to in the future. I learned spearfishing this last decade, and it's much similar to your land hunting in reverence and appreciation.

I remember in the early sixties when I was in grades one through four that two things that were default training in the Southern California school I went to were
wilderness survival and wildlife tracking. I can't find anybody here these days who knows squat about these things - if I snack on manzanita berries while hiking they are stunned.

I guess that as society changes the training criteria shift. This influences all.

Thanks again


Holly Heyser said...

Thank you!

And I was in grades 1-4 in the early '70s in SoCal, and that stuff was LONG GONE from my school - if it was ever there in the first place (I lived in Thousand Oaks, for the record).

And how horrible that your wife's parents fed her her own pet goat! I think I'd have a pretty strong reaction to that too.

Holler if you need resources to get started hunting on land. I don't have a lot of connections in SoCal, but I can always ask around.