Hunting and Gathering (plus Sweet Potato Stuffed Sausage Balls!)
Friday, February 17, 2012 diet and nutrition , evolutionary biology , inspirational , lifestyle Edit
In the typically hazy depths of my memory, there is a particular day that stands out in stark relief.
I was just a boy at the time, and years away from taking the wheel, so I have no idea where I was and how my dad got us there, but we eventually arrived at a large park service cabin deep in the wilds of South Florida for the mandatory hunter's safety course. Inside, the room was packed with tykes such as myself, and proud fathers of future-hunters. The walls were adorned with the skulls, heads, and hides of past hunts and there was a feeling of promise in the air.
We learned about never pointing a gun, loaded or otherwise at anything you wouldn't wish to shoot (such as your face, or someone else's face). We then went and shot a variety of guns, learned the basics of tracking (See that scratch over on yonder tree? That's a sign that bucks on the rut!), and generally had a great time. Then the proverbial shit got real.
With my newly minted certificate in hand, my father and I embarked on a series of hunts that tested my ability to sit in a tree stand for significant periods of time, to wade through vast and seemingly empty wetlands, and our pushed our ability to maintain utter silence to the limit. (What conversations we did have inevitably revolved around hushed explanations as to why the deer weren't where we were.) To my father's consternation, and to me and my mother's secret relief (well her relief was not so secret) this was how it went for many years.
Perhaps you are expecting this story to segue into how I finally, triumphantly, bagged the big one. Or, perhaps you are waiting to hear about how I shot a deer, looked at it in its large, wet, and dying eyes, and promptly became a vegetarian. The real story, however, took a very different turn.
The direction was in fact, no direction (pardon me for getting a little Bruce Lee-ish.)and I continued to eat meat while simultaneously cultivating an inability, or more accurately an unwillingness, to kill animals directly.
Perhaps I will go on a hunt again, but in interim, I am forced to consider that perhaps, in our large, complex societies, there is an inevitable division of labor, responsibility, and awareness. Unlike the relatively small, egalitarian social order of hunter gatherer bands, we operate more like an ant colony, with professional soldiers, workers, farmers, and royalty (although we tend to refer to these as "captains of industry"). As such, I can reliably eat bloody meat without ever bloodying my hands.
Should I be concerned about this? Should my carnivorous diet require that I at least once take on fluorescent orange vest and "Real Tree" shirt of a human hunter and dispatch a woodland creature with a well placed bullet? Would doing so prove anything to myself other than I can, and if so, is that worth killing over?
Clear answers to the above questions continue to elude me, but what I do know is that at it's best, a hunted animal dies quickly and with a minimum of suffering at the end of a life spent in freedom. This is far more than can be said for the 90% of animals who are raised in factory farms and whose short lives are spent in steeped in misery. I am happy, then, to take as much venison from my father's meat freezer as I can manage without suspicion.
With the hunting comfortably outsourced, I am free to exercise skills that are nearly as ancient; the gathering of root vegetables and the cooking of nature's bounty. Of course I did my gathering at a local Whole Foods store, which, on any given Saturday afternoon can be just as dangerous as the ancestral savannas. Similarly, the cooking didn't require that I strike fire from shards of flint and balls of tinder, but it still demanded an awareness of what was being cooked, and the challenge of applying heat to foodstuffs.
One large organic sweet potato
1lb venison sausage
Puncture the sweet potato a few times with a fork. Wrap it in foil, and place in a 350 degree oven. After 45 minutes to an hour, it should be soft and ready to peel and mash.
Once you have a nice bowl of mashed sweep potato, it's time to break out the sausage.
Divide the sausage into 12 equal portions. Flatten each portion into a small disk. Place a spoonful of sweet potato in the middle of 6 of the disks and use the other 6 to cover. Pinch the edges together to seal (think "meat ravioli").
Place the balls back into the oven and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Enjoy with as clear of a conscience as one can have in this world.