Hunting is undeniably in vogue among the bearded, bicycle-riding, locavore set. The new trend might even be partly behind a recent 9 percent increase from 2006 to 2011 in the number of hunters in the United States after years of decline. Many of these new hunters are taking up the activity for ethical and environmental reasons. “It feels more responsible and ecologically sound to eat an animal that was raised wild and natural in my local habitat than to eat a cow that was fattened up on grain or even hay, which is inevitably harvested with fuel-hungry machines,” writes Christie Aschwanden, a self-described “tree-hugging former vegetarian.”
The expansion of hunting into liberal, urban circles is the latest development in an evolving and increasingly snug coexistence between humans and beasts in North America. Jim Sterba’s new book, Nature Wars, examines the paradox of the rebound of many wild species, particularly in the densely populated East Coast of the United States. Whitetail deer, turkeys, Canada geese, black bears, and trees are all doing wonderfully in 2012, thanks to conservation measures in the past and vagaries of history and cultural change. The problem, Sterba says, is that most modern North Americans have no idea what to do with these species. We gawk and gape; we feed them doughnuts; we run into them with our cars; we are surprised and alarmed by their messy habits and occasional aggressiveness; we manage them all wrong; we want them gone from our neighborhoods, but we abhor the idea of killing them.Hunting by liberal, urban locavores is a trend good for the environment (Slate)
Sterba blames our ham-fisted interactions with these representatives of the natural world on two main factors: sprawl and sentimentality. Call it the Bambi and ’burbs theory of human-wildlife interaction. Sprawl brings people to wild species and in many cases creates better-than-natural habitat by increasing habitat “edges”—the complicated, resource-rich borderlands between forest and field that deer and other species love. In addition, sprawl brings goodies in the shape of high-calorie garbage in poorly secured cans. And sentimentality, born of an alienation from real nature and a diet of too much anthropomorphized wildlife on TV, makes people unwilling to take what in many cases is the easiest route in dealing with problematic interactions: killing the animals.
If you eat meat, eating animals you hunt yourself is a more ethical alternative than eating those from the current industrial agricultural system. Rather than being confined in small enclosures and dosed with antibiotics and antidepressants, wild birds and mammals have been leading lives very similar to those their species have been living for thousands of years (though featuring more corn, soy, and suburban refuse, generally speaking). And instead of outsourcing their deaths to an underpaid slaughterhouse employee, you do it yourself, which seems somehow most honest. If you can’t pull the trigger, you had better start collecting tempeh recipes. Getting your meat from outside the industrial food system is also better for the environment. Wild game isn’t fed on tons of grain that used excessive water, land, and fossil-fuel-based synthetic fertilizer. They aren’t clustered in “concentrated animal feeding operations” that produce toxic and terrible-smelling lagoons of manure.