Monday, July 14, 2008

Hunters, environmentalists and vegetarians: Can't we all just get along?

It was with a mixture of shock and amazement last night that I watched the scene across the table from me: A vegetarian of 24 years pinched off a nibble of Boyfriend's ethereal homemade pork sausage, smelled it tentatively and popped it into her mouth.

Moments like this are unusual. How often are people willing to stick their neck out, literally outside of the world they've chosen for themselves, to try something different and see if perhaps a there's something out there that might interest them?

Rarely, that's how often.

But Boyfriend and I are blessed with a pretty amazing circle of friends, so when we go off and have dinner with them, we meet our friends' amazing friends, and things like this happen.

Our dinner last night was at a farm in California's Capay Valley, a scorchingly hot river valley between Napa and the Sacramento Valley, surrounded by steep, dry hills that are carpeted with dry native grasses and dotted with rugged oaks. The common denominator among most (if not all) of the guests is that we'd all had some connection to politics - a former officeholder, some activists, lawyers and two former newspaper reporters (that would be me and Boyfriend).

Because Boyfriend was serving up some game meat at the grill, we ended up talking quite a bit about hunting. We found out quickly that the environmental activist from Berkeley is a vegetarian, and she and I started talking about what Boyfriend and I do: hunting, eating mostly game meat, avoiding factory-farmed meat. I asked her about her decision to be a vegetarian, and she told me it had started with a vegetarian roommate, and been fueled by health reasons and moral reasons. The discussion was friendly and open - we were exploring, not accusing.

Even with the conversation going that well, though, I was floored when she put that meat in her mouth. It was like I was watching the scene in slow motion, all other sights and sounds around us disappearing as I focused on her face, bathed in beautiful late afternoon sunlight, dappled occasionally by the shadow of a nearby tree swaying gently in the wind.

What would happen?

The meat sat on her tongue. Her jaw slackened a bit.

It reminded me of the expression I'm sure I wore on my face when I was little and my mom made me eat creamed tuna. Evil creamed tuna. If this food touches any more of my mouth, I might gag. Oh, if only Mom and Dad would just turn the other way, perhaps I could spit it into a napkin and avoid projectile vomiting.

I wanted to tell her, "Go ahead and spit it out - we won't be offended!" But the words hung in the back of my throat. She swallowed and grimaced.

God bless her, that was a brave thing to do. For her, it was probably the equivalent of me putting a wriggling mass of maggots on my tongue to see if live maggots might really be good eats. She had our respect, in spades.

Interestingly enough, though, we had hers too. I don't think she'd ever gotten a chance to have conversations with hunters like us - or maybe not any hunters at all - and she was surprised how much we, the hunters, had in common with her, the environmentalist vegetarian. We buy organic whenever possible. We avoid factory-farmed products. We want to promote more sustainable farming practices. We care deeply about habitat and the health of animal populations. We want to start a farm that does things right - producing organic, free-range produce and meat for local markets.

The timing of our conversation was interesting too, because this notion of finding common ground has been in the air lately.

FS Huntress wrote about it last week, wondering whether it was possible for hunters to find common ground with some antis. Phillip at The Hog Blog wrote about it too a while back, talking about an alliance between hunters and anglers and the Sierra Club. And in my own back yard, I recently found out that two friends I'd introduced - one who works for an environmental organization and another who works for a hunting organization - had begun to collaborate professionally on a project.

And me? Well, I went on a quest for understanding a few weeks ago and started a comment-section dialogue on a vegan's blog. It's not something I normally do because it seems insane, but I was intrigued by the blogger's thoughtfulness and I sensed an opportunity.

So, can we get along?

I don't think there's a single answer - the question has to be explored on a case-by-case basis, tested out, like our new vegetarian friend had tested that sausage. For her, the answer to the question "Might this meat be good?" was clearly no. But to the question "Can environmentalists find common ground with hunters?" the answer was yes.

Me and the vegans? Well, it didn't go so well. The blogger was super nice, but I felt like I'd walked into a Jehovah's Witness convention with the word "heathen" tattooed on my forehead - I was bombarded with people telling me what I was doing is wrong, and they were unmoved when I said, Look, I've thought this through a lot - more than most - so I'm not your best target for a conversion.

Hunters and the Humane Society? To quote the vernacular of my incredibly hip students, Hell never. The Humane Society wants to end hunting, and I refuse to help - it can use its own damn money for that. When HSUS uses insipid little ploys to chip away at hunting, saying "ethical hunters agree with us on this," it's no better than a child molester offering candy to kids in a park. It may indeed be yummy candy, but I'm not getting in the car with ya, pal.

But the rest of us? The environmentalists, the hunters and the vegetarians whose dietary choice is not religion?

It's clear there is much we can agree on. While our interests may clash clash from time to time, none of us is on a mission to eradicate the other. I think there's probably little harm and much good to be gained from talking, collaborating and achieving common goals.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


SimplyOutdoors said...

I think that was an excellent post.

While both of you have a lot of different beliefs and opinions, you also figured out, by a little conversation, that you have a lot of things in common as well, and that provided for some middle ground.

Her eating that piece of meat said it all. It proved that she was willing to try something else, despite her not really having any interest in it.

If only all of us, on both sides of the fence, could have more conversations like this.

Langdon Cook said...

When Mrs. Finspot--a vegetarian for two decades and several months pregnant--announced she needed a good NY strip steak, pronto, not even Jesse Owens could beat me to the butcher that day. Yesterday I watched her haul in a nice trout and debate whether to whack it (she released it, but the next one might not be so lucky). Change is good.

Hook & bullet + enviro = solid voting bloc. Only problem is convincing all those Don Young Republicans they're currently voting against their own best interests :)

Holly Heyser said...

Hmm, I just found out someone else who'd gone vegetarian had resumed eating meat during pregnancy! Personally, I've never been pregnant, so I have no excuse - I just really like meat.

I think if we all just get over our knee-jerk reactions to each other (me included), we could have civil conversations and decide who's really an ally and who's really not. I think the genuine enemies are few, but chief among them is Ignorance.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Lord have mercy, you're some daredevil Holly, that's for sure. Careful out there on that limb.

I tried the "meet them halfway" years back. When antis base their loud rhetoric on emotions and not sound scientific logic it makes for a rough road. I perservered thinking the antis I met and talked to online would come come round. The cows came home first.

The deal breaker was the antis coming to us hunters with hat in hand wanting our support for the Mojave NP. All we asked for was that the water sources that have been there for over a century be allowed to stay. "Sure", Feinstein and her cronies told us. We were also told we would be allowed to hunt the NP as we had for decades.

A year later the NP service started ripping out ALL the water sources that were man made. Roads were removed along with access to much of the NP. The antis buried the dagger in our back's up to the hilt.

Sierra Club is another black bag job on us. Many of their own staff and card carrying members are on record against hunting, fishing and ANY comsumptive sports.

At some point, with your back against the wall in a corner, you have to say no more and push back.

As one of your previous posts advised, we have NOTHING to be ashamed of. We are better stewards of the land and fork out the money each year to provide for the animals and land the antis say they care about.

I could go on all night but I feel my blood getting up. I think once you are betrayed a time or two you'll reconsider this mind meld.

Native said...

Great article Holly, Although I tend to agree with Jesse concerning keeping your "Spidey Sense" fine tuned.

The vegetarian/anti crowd have proven themselves to be very sly with the art of deception and will turn on you in an instant when their confidence is bolstered by numbers.

I very much like the idea of finding common ground with them but I approach with much trepidation!

Holly Heyser said...

Interestly enough, I just interviewed a former gun lobbyist - for a story for your website, Jesse! - who talked about the dangers of compromise. "I get burned in the kitchen all the time," he said, "but I still keep cooking."

Vegetarians don't worry me. Every vegetarian I know - and I know many - is married to (or living with) a meat eater. Vegetarians I know have made a choice; vegans are the extremists who believe everyone should make the choice they've made. Big difference.

As far as deal making, politics ain't business - a handshake is not enough. If it ain't in writing, you don't have it. An important thing to keep in mind if we're going to collaborate with people who scare us. Oh yeah, that's the other thing the gun lobbyist said (quoting someone else, of course): "Trust, but verify."

Problem is, hunters aren't in a position to go it alone on anything, because we're a tiny minority. If we weren't associated with gun owners, who make for a powerful lobby, we'd probably have no rights at all.

Another point is that a lot of hunters are environmentalists - myself included. Not whacko extremists, but people who care very much about the environment. Yes, definitely some key staffers of groups like the Sierra Club are antis. But the organization's mission is not to target hunting. Perhaps instead of aligning with them, we should become them. It's a tactic that's been used with tremendous success in the past, for example, with the evangelical takeover of the Republican Party. Food for thought!

And Native, good to see you in the comment field again. Thought you'd never forgive me for piling on and calling you Satan ;-).

Holly Heyser said...

Oh yeah, a great resource for finding out what various organizations' positions are on hunting is a brochure from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, called "What They Say About Hunting." Click here to check out the 26-page pdf.

Anonymous said...

I think there can be common ground, but both sides have to be willing to at least examine new ways of thinking. There will also always be people who will never see the other point of view. The trick is to determine which group is which and not waste time on the latter.

I just wrote a post based on some research from the NSSF report. Interestingly, the report found that people who personally know hunters have a much more positive view of hunting and are more likely to support hunting. If for no other reason than that, it is worth starting conversations like the one you had.

Great post as usual, Holly.

Blessed said...

I've found that since I became a hunter I care much more about the environment and "green living" than I did previously. I'm sure some of that has to do with just getting older and becoming more aware of what is going on around me - outside of my sphere.

I do think that there is common ground that the everyday vegetarian and the hunter can find, I think we can be friends, I think we can work together for common goals. However the hard-core people, those who are out to convert the world to their way of thinking - those are the people we simply have to always remain wary of.

As with anything - it's important to get any agreements, when we're partnering with any organization, in writing - handshakes just don't do it anymore.

Alex said...

Maybe I'm just lucky--the majority of the people I am learning to hunt with here in Wisconsin ARE devoted environmentalists, and a surprising number including myself have also been vegetarians at some point. It probably has something to do with it being a university crowd: forest ecologists and ornithologists who understand that the balance of nature involves predation, and want to be a part of that. In fact when I met my bf he was a vegetarian, but when we started learning about the sustainably and humanely raised meat available from farmers I work with, he started eating a little meat. The next thing I knew, he was deer hunting with people in his forestry lab, and so was I.

Some vegetarians (probably vegans) are in it because they never want animals to be killed. But a lot of vegetarians are thinking people who see the environmental damage and just plain awfulness of factory farms, and don't want any part of it. There's no inherent reason for them to be against hunting, and some (like me) may never even have thought about it. That's why dialogue like you describe is so important. And remember, American environmentalism was founded by hunters--John James Audubon, John Muir, Aldo Leopold. It's a fairly recent thing that hunting and environmentalism are seen as opposing views.

Tom Sorenson said...

Once again, a very thought provoking post. I like your analogy between the HSUS and the child molester.

But it does seem that vegetarian individuals have a lot in common - and it would be nice to understand each other better.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

"vegans are the extremists who believe everyone should make the choice they've made."

you reminded me of the last run in i had with a vegan. He was a 20 year old EMO (so pale like human veal) who told me that he thought a passing grey squirrel
(non indigenous and killing off our native reds)had just as much right to live as he did.
I stopped him in his tracks by telling him I agreed with him, then I added 'You look delicious!'

Cantankerous? Who me?
Say hi to 'im indoors

Holly Heyser said...

Bushwhacker, that's fantastic. You remind me of my dad - wicked, wicked, wicked!

Tom, thanks for noticing the child molester thing. I was proud of that line ;-)

And Al, that's really interesting about hunters who used to be vegetarians, and for some reason NOT surprising to me. I guess it just makes sense to me intuitively that people who care about the balance of nature could transition into being part of that balance.


Native said...

I will have to agree with your statement about Vegetarians VS Vegans Holly, While one is a fairly innocuous group,the other is openly radical and very dangerous.
The distinction should be made clear and we should be very mindful of the differences between the two organizations.

And Naw! I kinda' like being compared to the Prince Of Darkness.
Keeps people around me on their toes and aware!

Or is that Beware!

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Today's fishwrap has an article about the Sierra Club arguing AGAINST hunters and several state fish & game departments in the legal battle over the gray wolf being delisted and the umpcoming wolf hunts. Basically the hunts were cancelled by a district judge after the lobbying by Sierra Club and other anti groups who AGAIN ignored the scientific facts in the case. Deja vu all over again.

How are we supposed to meet half way with a group who flat out opposes any killing of these wolves? The gray wolf population is growing 24% each year which is causing a lot of problems for ranchers. The hunts were to regulate the population growth. Several states are going to appeal the decision to cancel the hunts to the 9th district.

Round and round we go, all the while spending even more taxpayer money to beat off the goofy antis and their screwy agendas.