A cursory glance through the popular media might lead one to believe that eating clean, organic foods fresh from America’s farms and fields is a phenomenon only discovered recently by a crowd of young, hip urbanites. Heck, even their fashion, with brawny flannels and Bean boots, reflects a rustic lifestyle that is, as pundits like to put it, on trend. In fact, that way of life, and the foods that fuel the hard work behind it, is a movement centuries—and even millennia—in the making.
As hunters have long known, the best, cleanest protein comes from the meat you put up yourself, taken legally and ethically during hunting seasons carefully managed by state and federal wildlife officials tasked with managing the nation’s herds and flocks. Free of artificially enhanced hormones and unnatural chemicals, these animals have grazed freely from birth until the moment their lives intersect with the hunter’s. From that point on, their meat provides life for the hunter and his family, going from the field to the flame as the freshest, healthiest organic protein available. It’s a never-ending cycle as old as mankind itself.
Ever since early humans first put spark to tinder, the steady-burning flames of a campfire have held a special kind of magic. Not only did a fire provide warmth against the creeping cold, but its flickering light pierced the darkness to keep the wolves and other predators at bay. A fire was also a beacon in the night for nomads, a glowing signpost signaling that safety, and just as importantly, fellowship, could be found just ahead.
It was those nights circling the fire that were critical to the development of our ability to communicate with one another. Languages formed as hunters relived the day’s adventures and planned for future hunts. These interactions allowed humans to construct complex social relationships, and as their numbers grew, so did their ability to successfully hunt animals that evolved, through the nature of the predator-prey relationship, to elude us.
Scientific evidence shows that the very proteins early humans were consuming from meat they had hunted increased the size of both the brain and the body. Nutritionally denser than most foraged fruits and vegetables and higher in calories, especially when cooked, meat also allowed early humans to spend less time hunting and eating, leaving more hours of daylight available to develop and learn skills essential to not only survive, but to thrive. From that first spark on, hunting success increased, civilizations formed and the very history of the world was born—all around that original hunter’s table—the fire.
Many centuries later, even as livestock was domesticated as a ready supply of meat, wild game continued to serve as an important part of the daily diet of everyone from the working class to the landed gentry. A game bird, wild hare or haunch of venison could occasionally be found in a thatched hut—and certainly made frequent appearances in the halls of Hammurabi—although the former’s wild fare was certainly less formal than that of a ruler who spent his leisure time following hounds in pursuit of the sport of kings. Still, both men feasted on food provided by the surrounding fields.
That field-to-fork reliance has continued on throughout recorded history, providing humans with a sustainable source of protein to be taken as needed. Sure enough, the ability of people to hunt for meat has waxed and waned as diverse factors—both environmental and political—dictated, but always there was some way to hunt and gather the wild food nature offered.
Here in the United States, the very history of our country was founded on wild game. From that first Thanksgiving wild turkey (and likely deer and other game meats) shared with the Pilgrims, to the Manifest Destiny of the great migration west, the frontier was fed with America’s wild bounty, including buffalo, elk, deer and small game such as squirrels and rabbit, along with the varied abundance of wild birds found from Appalachia to the Sierra.
Wild game wasn’t just the meat of the wilderness. The finest restaurants in the sterling cities of the East listed an abundance of game on their menus. Boston’s Quincy House featured both larded grouse and saddle of venison, while the famous Parker House made special note of its breasted wild goose with jelly sauce, black ducks and even prairie grouse, despite its far remove from the bird’s high plains habitat.
Even the White House was known to serve sitting Presidents with a selection of wild game. Of course, President Theodore Roosevelt, the scion of the modern conservation movement, was an ardent hunter, and menus during his tenure in office reflected his passions. Wild ducks and geese, along with a variety of deer, elk and other venison were frequently found on Teddy’s dinner table. Later, President Taft was a fan of roast opossum, among other wild eats, and, in 1925, Calvin Coolidge was gifted a variety of game meats, from rabbits to quail. He enjoyed them all, save for a raccoon that instead of making it to the kitchen received a Presidential pardon and was co-opted as a family pet.
Probably not coincidentally, it was around this same time that the hunter’s table began to fall out of favor with the general public. The reasons for this are myriad and complex. A much-needed moratorium on gunning wild game for sale and profit pulled wild meat from the market and, consequently, the nation’s restaurants, leaving the non-hunting public without a good source for game. The developing world also added to the growth of industrial agriculture to feed a post-war population boom. Quickly, domesticated meat became a cheap, easy alternative for American families.
Starting in the early 20th century, hunters were vilified at every turn, by everyone from animal rights activists with their irrational rhetoric to popular media who brain-washed generations of children with anti-hunting propaganda such as Bambi. Even misguided meat eaters would, without irony, decry hunting as inhumane even as they tore off another chunk of T-bone steak from an animal born, raised and slaughtered in the industrial-agriculture complex.
Throughout the withering fire and outright assaults on an established way of life, a select group of the population has forged ahead, trusting that ancestral hunter pulsing through the blood of every human being on earth. As hunters, we proudly do only what comes natural, and even instinctual. We hunt for our food, taking to the woods and prairie to provide for our families that most natural, most organic, cleanest of meat—the deer, elk, ducks, grouse and other game that, since that first spark of fire, have been the centerpiece of the hunter’s table.
You’ll forgive us, then, our wry smile as we watch the farm-to-table movement grow in popularity, as if sourcing clean, organic food is some exciting, new development fostered only by trendy foodies who care more about sharing a photo of their lunch online than the actual ethics behind the food they eat. To us, hunting is our heritage, a bloodline that runs long and deep. It’s not some fad to be mass-marketed under the guise of some new diet meant to sell everything from kitchen gadgets to running shoes.
Don’t get it wrong. We’re proud of this new focus on our way of life, and welcome anyone who truly wants to tie themselves to the primal threads running through ethically hunted and harvested meat from deer, elk and other wild game. Organizations such as the NRA have long fought for hunters’ rights, and have programs in place to educate new hunters, bringing them into a way of life their ancestors held as birthright.
Through these efforts by the NRA, matched with an increasing interest in the field-to-table food movement, the number of hunters in America has stabilized after years of decline, and in some states, hunting licenses sales have even increased as more and more people reject a food system that’s been broken by big business and poor practice. Instead, these modern-day pioneers choose to hunt for their meat. A whole new generation, including an increasing class of female hunters, are embracing the innate drive to procure the fresh, clean protein only available from animals that have lived an entire life in the wild. No unnatural hormones or injected antibiotics. Instead, only the freshest ingredients are found on the hunter’s table, procured from a farm that is as big and wild as all the outdoors.
These new additions to the ranks of outdoorsmen and women are embraced by those of us who have long trusted the hunter in our blood. As willing evangelists, they, along with the NRA, can only help spread the honest message that hunters bring to the American table. Through the sharing of nature’s bounty with friends and family, as well as supporting the fight against our rights, we can all ensure that the grand tradition of hunting for clean, fresh, organic food will continue on for generations to come.