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Steve Rinella: ‘Hunting is the Ultimate in Organic Food’

by Eric Conn   |  October 12th, 2012 2

There it was, just last week, on the front page of the New York Times, an article about hunting—and a positive one. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Dwight Garner’s  piece covered a supposed “new breed” of conscientious hunter including the work of Steve Rinella, TV host and author of the new book, Meat Eater: A Natural History of An American Hunter, as well as fellow authors Lily Raff McCaulou, Georgia Pellegrini and Tovar Cerulli. McCaulou was also featured in this month’s edition of Elle, while Pellegrini has appeared on Iron Chef America.

What’s the cause for all the new found interest in hunting? As Rinella told me recently, it revolves around something he’s been saying for years now about the food revolution in America—there’s nothing more organic than hunting.

“Something I’ve been saying for a long time, and I’ve been writing about this stuff for 12 years, is all these buzz words you hear, ‘free range,’ ‘organic,’ ‘humanely harvested,’ ‘sustainable,’ that’s called ‘wild game.’ They’ve just never thought to apply the term to it.”

The reason the NY Times cares about hunting is because it’s part of the broader conversation about food and the do-it-yourself culture in this country, and they’re finally putting two and two together. The really new thing is that they care about hunting—at least mildly—thanks to people like Rinella, who have framed the rationale for hunting in a way that speaks to their primary concerns about life. We both care about where our food comes from. We both care about taking a responsible role in that process. And so they’re listening.

According to Rinella, a Michigan native who now lives in New York City, it was the convergence of his hunting lifestyle with urban America that partially inspired his new book.

“I don’t think I would have written this book had it not been for my more recent experiences of living in an urban area. By living around people with a background that isn’t familiar with hunting, allowed me to understand their perspective, which has motivated me more to try to explain hunting to people.”

The truth is there’s a whole host of food-conscious people today who are investing in the organic industry, which takes in about $17 billion annually. These are the same people, Rinella pointed out, who typically share a passion for getting personally involved in the processes of life. Whether it’s the boom of the home improvement market in the last 20 years or the rise in the “buy local” category, people want to get their hands dirty.

In the end, those same people will be faced with an inevitable conclusion: there’s nothing more hands on, involved, conscientious, and organic about the journey of food than hunting. You study habitat, you track, you become an expert on a species, you learn how to shoot, you kill, you prepare the meat, and you bring it to your table—you’re there from the very beginning to the very end.

“People have been hunting to some degree or another dating back maybe millions of years, which predates agriculture. We’ve been hunting all that time,” Rinella said, ever the mindful anthropologist.

“Anyone who wants to get back to the basics, there is nothing more basic than hunting. A movement has to end there. Hunting is the end of the line. That’s how fads work as they come full circle; it has to come to an end point. People have to come to hunting.”

As Rinella pointed out, hunting is the all-encompassing journey from field to table, maybe as old as the earth itself. It requires specific skill, expertise in the field, and consistently self-disciplined training. It’s the age-old combination of brain-meets-brawn, courage with a carefully worked out plan. It puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your food. There aren’t any pesticides or growth hormones, and nearly everything about it is free range.

It doesn’t get any more organic than that.

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