Wow, have you been watching Steven Rinella’s “The Wild Within” on Travel Channel? We’ve watched two episodes with the kids, and the scene from the Hawaii episode, where he kills the wild boar, is quite possibly one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen on television. I’m so impressed with the way they film this show, too – each time he kills an animal, they don’t relish the gore or severely over-hype the drama, but nor do they shy away from the reality that hunting results in a bloody, dead animal. They show Steven’s respect for the animal by including footage of him petting the fur of a deer that he’s just shot and killed. They show him cutting through fur, but without gratuitously focusing on the blood or the entrails or the eviscerated carcass left behind.
We watch this with our kids, and I think it is fantastic for them to see this. In the show intro, Steven says that we’re losing our connection to each other, and to our food. And he is definitely skipping all the middlemen, the farmers and CAFOs and processing plants and shipping and grocery stores. He kills the animals; he butchers them and ships the meat home. He talks about moral consistency: we eat animals, therefore we must accept the fact that they are dying in order for us to do so. We cannot have a problem with this. If killing animals is disgusting or abhorrent, then eating meat is disgusting and abhorrent.
This reminds me of a story I read about the principal of a rural school in the UK, who about a year ago was literally run out of town by angry parents, after she had pupils raise a lamb at school, which was then sent to the slaughterhouse. Despite the fact that the student council, made up of students ages 7 to 11, voted to send the lamb to slaughter; despite the fact that lambs indeed sometimes become food for humans; despite the fact that this whole exercise was a fantastic way to teach children about the cycle of life and the realities of life as a carnivorous species — and how we affect other species and our environment — this was all too much for the parents at this school. They bullied the principal through Facebook and online petitions until she finally resigned – the “modern equivalent of torches and pitchforks” according to the article in the Daily Mail.
The article points out that the school principal managed to offend “We Brits” who believe in “mollycoddling children” (I love ‘mollycoddling’ – definitely a Queen’s English-ism), but I’d imagine a similar exercise would not go over too well in this country either. Yet there the chicken is on the plate, and the burger in the hand, for nearly every American kid. Does it really serve any purpose, other than to mollycoddle the squeamishness of morally inconsistent parents, to so completely separate the death of an animal from the meat on the plate?
In the first episode of “The Wild Within” (he’s in Alaska), Steven’s wife tells the story of the biggest argument they ever had: she was at the airport, traveling to visit family for the holidays, and had to make a choice between bringing a cooler of meat that Steven had shot and butchered, or bringing a suitcase of gifts. She chose to leave the cooler behind. She said she figured the meat could be easily replaced; they could “just buy more at the store.” Steven had a fit, to say the least, reminding her that an animal died for the sake of that meat, and she just left it behind to spoil and be wasted.
The population of this country is notorious for consumption and waste (the U.S. wastes 50% of its food production, according to one study, 40% according to another. (There are other countries, however, where the waste of food is considered a grievous sin, and is simply not done. I saw this on an episode of No Reservations, but I can’t remember — or find — which country it was: Singapore? Korea? In any case, in this particular Asian country, taking more than you can eat is just not done, let alone accepted.)
I wonder how much less food might be left on our kids’ plates if they, like the kids at that UK school, were given first-hand experience of what the term “food chain” really refers to? If we had even a slight relationship with an animal, would we so casually throw something it had to die for into the trash?
Though I come from a family with a hunter father, and can remember eating grouse meat with bruises from the shot pellets, and plucking out feathers, I still have trouble with applying cleaver to bone when preparing meat for cooking, or finding blood in my fried chicken thighs. Though it shouldn’t, it feels like an intrusion of one world – of blood and death and unsightliness – upon another: the clean, sanitized, appetizing world of food. But I know that these two things are part of the same process, and I know I need to accept and understand that. Hunting would help, and nearly twenty years too late, I now wish I’d gone hunting with my dad. I always said, “Oh, I could never shoot a beautiful deer.” Yet how many times have I eaten the meat from one?
I believe that understanding leads to respect – and that respect leads to care. And if we don’t understand anything about the sources of our food, how can we appropriately care? The result of not appropriately caring, is that we now get most of our beef, for instance, from CAFOs – inhumane to the animal, destructive to the environment, completely contrary to the natural processes that have governed animal husbandry and physiology for millennia (i.e., the fact that cows eat grass, not corn, and especially not parts of other cows), and ultimately dangerous to the health and safety of the humans who consume the meat on the receiving end. Now that’s disgusting.
So Steven Rinella, good for you: get off on your wild self. Can’t wait to see the next episode.
– Red Pill Mama