U of Alberta professor says: 'Let us prey'
An Article submitted by Mr. Mitch Kendall
Hunting as a green activity: Biologist guts a deer in his yard to teach the
value of the kill
Dr. Lee Foote, a biologist and associate professor at the University of
Alberta, recently invited students to his backyard for a class on how to gut
a deer. Among them were vegetarians and anti-hunters who prefer ramen
noodles to venison.
"I think I opened some eyes, some minds and maybe even some mouths," said
Dr. Foote, a hunter. He had vegans up to their elbows in viscera as he
demonstrated the traditional aboriginal uses of animal parts -- the bladder
as a water carrying bag, the fat for rendering candles, the hooves for
rattles, smoked brains for tanning the hide, the teeth for jewellery, the
stomach lining as a boiling bag -- and how to properly butcher the animal to
get choice cuts of meat, including the heart and liver.
Relating the kill to the aboriginal way of life poses a challenge to hunting
abhorrents, who almost universally embrace native traditions as touchstones
of environmentalism. In Dr. Foote's Edmonton yard -- a typical,
predator-free, fenced environment of grass and tall trees that humans have
developed to mimic our safe ancestral homeland -- students were challenged
to confront the bloody reality of their existence.
"There is no such thing as a non-consumer," says Dr. Foote. "We all burn
fossil fuels. We wear cotton and eat vegetables that have eliminated animals
in perpetuity from the environments on which they are grown. The reality is
that we all swim through a soup of mortality as we move through our lives.
We kill bugs and animals with our cars. We destroy living creatures every
day. It all comes at a cost."
Dr. Foote, who makes a mean venison gumbo, is one of the thousands of
Canadians who will take to the woods during this hunting season to kill a
deer. By the time the season is over, more than a quarter million deer will
die, their entrails spilled on the ground for ravens and coyotes to
scavenge, their bones left to calcify in the woods. This, says Dr. Foote, is
a beautiful thing.
"To most people geographically or generationally isolated from eating
wild-killed meat, these activities seem barbaric, heartless and uncivilized.
When uncivilized becomes a pejorative, it speaks volumes about how far
cultures have drifted from a natural way of living," he wrote in a recent
essay, The Irreducibility of Hunting.
Animal rights activists, of course, greet this all with scorn. John
Livingstone, a naturalist and author of the Governor General's Award-winning
Rogue Primate, calls hunting "gratuitous, ergo evil." He once likened it to
"If you want to demonize anything you associate it with the most heinous
behaviour," says Dr. Foote, who has been challenged to debates on campus by
anti-hunting professors, ethicists and philosophers. To him, hunting is a
"green activity" full of symbolism and native traditions that is less
damaging to the environment than the hordes of weekend recreational
enthusiasts whose year-round activities leave a far greater environmental
footprint than those of hunters, whose activities are limited to two months
of the year. Besides, he says, wild meat simply tastes better.
"I'm a little bit scared of the antibodies and growth hormones that cattle
invariably get," he said. It's a misconception that wild game is lower in
cholesterol, but, he says, it does have less fat. "In cattle, the fat
marbles in intermuscular fibres. Elk and deer layer it, so you can trim it
and get it down very lean."
It's enough to make a vegan vomit, but for the millions of Canadians who eat
meat but deny the kill, listening to people like Dr. Foote makes you want to
get a rifle and take responsibility for the death of your meal rather than
leaving the messy business to somebody else. Dr. Foote believes his
lifestyle is on the verge of a renaissance to rival the fly-fishing boom.
"All it's going to take is one good movie by Robert Redford and we'll see
yuppies heading into the woods in their SUVs to bag a deer," he says.
National statistics, however, indicate he may be one of a dying breed. A
1996 Environment Canada survey, which tracked nature activities since 1981,
showed drastic declines in those hunting. In Ontario, the number of hunters
declined by 35% from 486,000 to 314,000; in Alberta by 55% from 186,000 to 84,000; in New Brunswick by 31% from 115,000 to 79,000. Recent federal gun registration laws have likely been a further disincentive.
The figures, however, do not account for the dramatic rise in hunting from
the early 1960s to the 1980s, when the number of hunters grew at almost
twice the rate of the Canadian population.
"We may be just a blip in time and are in fact at the same levels as
before," says Dr. Foote.
To the anti-hunters he debates, most will concede that hunting strictly for
food is defensible. But Dr. Foote also argues on behalf of trophy hunting,
an activity animal rights activists regard as little more than murder.
"It's often much harder to kill a mature animal than the young. I will
usually take the first legal animal I encounter but I respect those hunters
who establish their own set of rules, who set degrees of difficulty for
themselves. Delay of gratification is usually considered an admirable trait
in society and what most people don't realize is that for every successful
hunt, there are many unsuccessful hunts."
To Dr. Foote, killing one's own food is much more admirable than buying it
in a store. It's also safer.
According to U.S. National Safety Council statistics, people are more than
20 times more likely to die in a car accident than while hunting. Hunting is
also safer than fishing, swimming, tennis, even golf. Football, the most
dangerous outdoor activity, requires almost 2,200 emergency room treatments
per 100,000 participants, according to NSC statistics. Baseball is second
with 2,089. Fishing is at 141, tennis 119.7, golf 104.4 and swimming 93.3.
Hunting required only eight emergency room treatments per 100,000.
Dr. Foote explains part of the opposition to hunting as neotenous behaviour,
the genetical predisposition humans and chimps have to creatures with big
round eyes and adorable facial features -- the same visual trigger that
motivates us to protect our infants.
He also has a secret weapon to sway the debate -- his venison curry. At one
potluck dinner with fellow academics and vegetarian students, he placed the
following disclaimer next to his steaming dish:
"This animal, like its ancestors and progeny, was produced locally. The meat
herein was produced as a result of free genetic exchange (no artificial
insemination). The animal was not castrated, or forced onto a synchronized
breeding schedule. She lived to maturity (4 1/2 years) and reproduced at
least once, but most likely had three sets of twins. The meat contains no
antibiotics, synthetic steroids, artificial growth hormones or insecticide
residues. Its production required no landclearing, fencing, fertilizing or
feedlots. Her life did not contribute to the destruction of associated fauna
and flora. No manure was collected or spread on erosion-prone pastures to
produce (or as a result of) its growth. This animal was not confined,
transported or kept in crowded conditions at any point in its life. The
lean, unmarbled meat was not wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam packaging. No nitrates or sulfites were applied to prevent discolouration. No fossil fuels
were used for specialized refrigerator transport or cold-storage ageing.
Associated inedible parts were not reconstituted into cattle meal or dog
food. Inedible parts were fed to indigenous fauna (most likely coyotes,
magpies and ravens). Her bones provided calcium to the aspen grove where she was feeding. Substantial calories were metabolized by the hunter over
several days to secure this meat. She died quickly, and honourably. Before,
as well as after, her death she was treated with reverence and respect.
Allowing my participation in a natural cycle was this animal's gift to me.
The energy that flowed from sun to plant to deer now also flows through me.
This meal does offer reflection, natural continuity, appreciation, health,
hope, and tangible renewal of life. Let us prey."