Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hunting with hipsters

Hunting has long been considered a part of American heritage and it is one with many rural associations.  See here and here for other posts on the subject.  Hunting brings a considerable amount of revenue to "small, rural businesses in the form of gas, supplies, food, and lodging."   In addition, many rural people rely on hunting to provide a substantial portion of their meat for the year.  Revenue from license sales and hunting equipment help to fund state and federal agencies that manage the wildlife that both hunters and many non-hunters hold dear.  

Several years ago there was a significant concern among state fish and game agencies and hunters that this way of life was disappearing due to lack of participation (see post here).  In fact, between 1991 and 2006 the number of hunters decreased by approximately 1.6 million.  According to the United States Census Bureau and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 14.1 million people ages 16 and older hunted in 1991By 1996 the number was down to 14.0 million and in 2001 it was 13.0 million.  In 2006, the number of active hunters reached its lowest point since 1991 with 12.5 million hunters.   In 2011, however, the number of active hunters grew by 1.2 million, rebounding to a total of 13.7 million active hunters.  What could be causing this increase?

A previous blog post explored women's role in hunting.  The number of female hunters has grown consistently since 1991.  The 2011 census, showed a total of 1.5 million female hunters (up from 1.1 million in 1991).  This explains a portion of the total increase in hunters, but not all of them. 
Part of the increase could be due to immigrant populations.  A 2010 post describes hunter education courses directed at the Hmong community in northern California, who are somewhat distrustful of government authorities.  More Hmong may be buying licenses due to this directed effort.  I have hunted in California since I was a young, and I have also seen an increase in Hispanic hunters.  These populations may be contributing to the increasing number of hunters in the United States, but that is not the entire story.  

What if I said that part of the increase was due to hipsters? Yes, hipsters. I know it seems almost humorous at first, but I recently came across two articles talking about the increased interest in self-reliance in America. A New York Times article entitled “Blessed Be My Freshly Slaughtered Dinner” describes a relatively new eat-what-you-kill movement in America. People are turning to backyard gardens and chicken coops to fill their refrigerators and pantries with vegetables, eggs, and meat. Some who have larger properties and live outside of the city have the ability to raise larger animals such as goats, sheep, and pigs to provide their meat. A famous example of this self-reliance movement is when, in 2011, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook declared that for one year he was only going to eat meat that he killed. He killed farm-raised chickens, pigs, and goats but left the butchering to others. Although Zuckerberg didn't butcher his animals, many do. Some "hipster locavores" organize slaughter days where people show up to, well, slaughter and butcher animals for their meat. Others decide to take a different approach and take up guns and bows to kill their own meat in the wild.

A 2012 Slate article entitled "Hipsters Who Hunt" describes the progression from hipster to hipster hunter as:
2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.
2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.
2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.
2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.
2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.
2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “how hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar.”
 This article did more than just describe what is happening in the hipster community. The article encouraged urban liberals to throw away their preconceived notions of hunters, and rural people generally, as "jerky guys with big trucks and a fondness for the country music and Republican candidates." See The Geography of the Class Cultural Wars. I agree that these tired notions of what a hunter is, and more specifically what a rural person is, need to be done away with if there is to be any understanding between urban and rural people.

Part of the article addressed problems with wildlife-human conflicts in suburban areas (especially those areas in the eastern US that are overpopulated with wild animals). At the end of the article, the author proposed that changing urban perceptions of hunting and encouraging more urban liberals to hunt would solve the problem by reducing the numbers of animals in the ecosystem. This seems like a fairly rational solution to the problem of overpopulation.
The author had another solution, however, that showed a fundamental lack of understanding about rural people and hunters. She proposed that we change policies and provide incentives to move rural people and people who live in urban sprawl into the urban core. The thought behind this idea is that it would "leave the woods for the deer and turkey, except when we visit to admire them and/or shoot them for dinner." The notion that the wilderness belongs only to the animals belittles the rural population. The author thinks that she, as an urbanite, knows what is best for rural populations. Further, it seems as if she views rural people as somehow less than human because they don't live in the cities where she feels humans belong.

Of course, this author doesn't necessarily speak for all hipsters joining the hunting community, but this view is almost surely shared among others in that community. Is the traditional hunting community willing to alter how they view hunting culture to incorporate these newcomers?


Daniel Quinley said...

This post is hilarious. I love it. On to the substantive comments,

I also grew up hunting, in rural Connecticut. Mainly whitetail deer, which, I can tell you, were like freaking squirrels (which, we also trapped, and ate). Our family wasn't super well off, so the majority of our winter meat came from the whitetail we killed each season. It was a godsend when the state increased the amount of deer you could take on private land.

A lot of our other food came from our garden, or the gardens and farms of our neighbors. I remember a particular arrangement where my father would provide manual labor help for a friend, and we would get a pig.

With that as context, when I moved to Washington DC, the way in which people consumed and used food perplexed me. It seemed wasteful and disconnected. It sparked my interest in eating more ethically (and I guess you could say, my nascent hipsterism). I read The Omnivore's Dilemma. I also really focused on the chef's (particularly English chef's Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall and Marco Pierre White) who were leading a locally-sourced revolution across the pond. Both of those chef's decamped from London to rural England, and really live that life stlye (at least, as much as urbanites can).

I think that, as with a lot of the urban-rural cross-pollination, the urbanites seek something of a soul in the rural. Some are lucky, and break down the rural-urban barriers, and achieve a broader understanding. Except, for of course, for those that completely discount the rural experience, and seek to co-opt only certain elements of the culture for their own end and want to leave the furry animals alone and live in a wilderness of steel and glass.

Dakota Sinclair said...

This post is awesome.

I agree that the author who proposed moving rural people into the cities is not just belittling rural life, but applying a gross contradiction. Why would rural people want to move into the dirty cities, breathing the horrid air, trapped in the masses of humanity, and stuck in a grossness equal to how disgusting the meat industry is.

From personal experience, my parents were committed to raising free range animals for ethical butchering. Moving into an urban area and eating meat out of the market cooler was disgusting beyond imagination after years of eating meat that was ethically raised.

I thoroughly enjoy the concept of hipsters putting aside their stereotypes of rural living. The shift in thinking demonstrates that as a society Americans can learn and evolve their thinking rapidly. It will be interesting to see if this shift in thinking alters other rural stereotypes or urban behaviors. This could include a change in attitude on gun rights or boost ecotourism as hipsters seek to flush out the most pure game.

I do wonder though how a hipster would feel about the blue fat pigs of California that have appeared on occasion. [Warning: Graphic images of dead pig] The blue fat is caused by squirrel poison. It will be interesting to see if people call for tighter controls on household poisons and commonly available chemicals that could harm wildlife...all so that later on said wildlife can be hunted.