Quite simply one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time. If you enjoyed Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, this is a must read. If you are a non-hunter and are thinking about heading down the path towards becoming one, this is a must read. If you are a ecologically-conscious hunter or someone who occasionally has those “this just doesn’t feel right” moments sprinkled throughout your outdoor experience, this is a must read. If you look at your time outdoors as a sort of salving therapy for life’s troubles, this is a must read. The book challenged me, inspired me, surprised me, and thrilled me. Bottom line, this is a must read.
The Mindful Carnivore (link to order the book from Amazon) is a 3-stage chronicling of the author’s path from 1) a boyhood spent plinking cans with BB guns and catching fish from the local quarry to 2) an early adult life dedicated to veganism and challenging every possible motivation that might lead a person to take another creature’s life and finally to 3) the quest to re-immerse himself into a consumptive and participatory relationship with nature through activities such as gardening, fishing, and hunting. The book is extremely personal and reads, at times, more like a novel than a non-fiction book about the topic at hand. The author is very introspective and does a great job articulating those internal battles as he wrestles with his own emotions, confronting apparent (and real!) affronts and inconsistencies within the popularized hunting culture, and dealing with the moment he takes a deer’s life with intent and purpose and forethought.
To difficult to summarize my favorite parts so I’ll just insert a couple short excerpts that give a taste of his writing style and the provocative thinking that characterizes all of the book.
“Hunters, I realized, face a problem shared by many minorities: identity in the eyes of the majority. No single set of behaviors can be ascribed to them all, yet nonhunters often identify them as a singular group. If hunting was more common – like driving, say – we would make more sophisticated distinctions. Just as we can encounter bad drivers without drawing conclusions about all drivers, we would be able to encounter bad hunters without drawing conclusions about all hunters. Just as we can criticize drunk driving and road rage without condemning all driving, we would be able to criticize poaching and cruelty without condemning all hunting.”
“In becoming a vegan, I had been mindful of my diet’s consequences for the planet and for the beings who inhabit it. I aimed to confront those consequences head-on, to see them clearly, to choose the path of least harm. I sought a respectful, holistic way of eating and living, a kind of right dietary citizenship, my food choices shaped by ecological and animal-welfare concerns in much the way that early American vegetarianism was shaped by fears of animality, issues of social reform, and aspirations to masculinity and success. I was mindful, too, of my diet’s inner consequences. Since I believed that killing animals was an unnecessary evil, integrity and alignment – a sense of values put into action – could only come from a meat-free diet. In becoming a hunter, my outward aim had been the same: to be mindful of the consequences of my diet, and to confront one of those consequences-the death of animals – with my eyes open. Taking a life carefully and swiftly seemed the most conscientious path. I still sought a respectful, holistic way of eating and living, my decision to hunt shaped by the same concerns that shaped my veganism. My inner aim had also been the same. Having concluded that I needed some animal protein in my diet and that some harm to animals was inevitable in even the gentlest forms of agriculture, integrity and alignment could only come from taking responsibility for at least a portion of the killing.”