“Distance from food preparation poisons the soul with cold abstractions” Jim Harrison
Let’s be truthful, in the age of mass convenience and food deliveries, why anyone gets up at 4 am in the freezing cold and driving rain to go catch their dinner is a mystery to most. But here’s the thing- How many of us have any emotional attachment to our dinner as we cook? As happy as I am are flipping those supermarket burgers on the BBQ, beer in hand, I never bother to think about the meat as a sentient being. Or even the journey that the animal went on to get here.
To be honest with hamburgers, it’s probably better not to think about it at all. Unless of course, you shot that boar, ground the meat, and made those patties yourself. In which case, you can strengthen your back, hold your head up high, and take all of the compliments that are about to come your way from your appreciative guests. You can share the joy of eating a sustainable, delicious wild product, free of preservatives, fillers, and other nasties of the modern age.
Cooking games is an all-together richer experience. When I’m preparing a wild game dinner at my restaurant Il Portico, the thing that strikes me first is the added level of care I bring to the task. I revisit in my mind, not only the moment I pulled the trigger, but the whole day beginning with the long drive out before dawn. Exhausted as I may be, I can’t help but feel damn honored walking through the kitchen door with a freshly shot fallow over my shoulder. I spend some time chatting with the kitchen crew about the hunt, the conditions, the weather, and the woods. We inspect the carcass including shot placement, entry & exit wounds, and start to plan how best to use it all. I think about the animal for a long time as the carcass hangs in the larder and the meat starts to soften and develop to perfection. Alchemy begins now. I worked hard for that meal, and I’ll be damned if it not shown the respect it deserves. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, reverence, and pride as I think about all the ways in which my guests will benefit from my work. Gratitude not just for the clean, organic, and morally just protein hanging on the chiller, but more importantly gratitude to the quarry that made me work so hard for my dinner. Due reverence must be shown. You should be proud of fulfilling one of life’s greatest tasks, providing healthy, clean food for your kin.
Sharing your endeavor with your guests and family will grant you a further, deeper satisfaction. At Il Portico, one of the reasons for our prolonged success has been the stories that accompany the wild game dishes. I am inundated with questions about the hunt. Not only are more diners curious (especially if they have never tasted a Sika Deer before, or often have never seen one), but in an era of antisceptic eating the story adds a much-missed emotional connection to the meal. As the great Anthony De Mello so wisely said, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”
But what about the Anti’s and animal rights activist you ask? Aren’t you worried about upsetting and excluding those who find this whole debacle a little distasteful? Well, as omnivores, we have a straight-up choice between the sustainable & humane harvest of a truly wild animal who lived its entire life in its natural habitat or buying plastic-packaged meat from industrial farms where the animal has been reared in appalling conditions. As a meat-eater, animal lover, and conservationist I want no part of a system that regularly uses steroids, antibiotics, and chlorine washes in food production. Even your most free-range, welfare certified, eye wateringly expensive steak comes nowhere near the purity of harvesting your own protein. If you’re culling invasive species such as the Signal Crayfish, Muntjac Deer, or the ever-present Eastern Grey Squirrel, then you can double down on your morality points as you’ ll be proving a great service to our native fauna and songbirds that can’t compete against these diseases spreading hostile intruders. Get more involved in your food and conservation and get hunting.