Sunday, April 9, 2017

Rural children and guns (Part IV): Hunting to eat

"In rural America... people hunt to eat." - Francine Shaw, director of Kids and Guns (a documentary exploring the world of children and guns)

Gun Ownership and Hunting in Rural America

There is a common association between rurality and hunting, whether it is for food (as will be explored in this post) or for sport (which will be addressed in my next post). Additionally, many gun advocates cite hunting as a reason for continued access to firearms. However, according to a PEW research survey completed in 2014, 48% of gun owners said that the main reason they owned a gun was for protection, while 32% stated that they owned a gun for hunting. These results show a change in the justifications Americans provide for owning firearms as in a 1999 survey, 49% said they owned guns for hunting while 26% said they owned a gun for protection. This change may show not only a difference in reasoning for gun ownership but also a potential departure from hunting.

In terms of hunting's general connection to food in rural places, there is a relatively easy connection to make: rural people "live in the countryside where animals are raised for food. When [they] take a walk into the woods to shoot a rabbit or deer, it seems little different than harvesting cattle or poultry."

Rural Children Hunting for Food

There are a multitude of reasons given for why children should be taught how to hunt. While many of them revolve around hunting being a recreational sport, there are also still those who believe children should learn to hunt as a means to eat. There appear to be three main thoughts espoused as to why children should be taught to hunt for food.

Self-Reliance and Necessity

The first area of thought argues that hunting allows for self-reliance and can ensure that the children, no matter what happens, know how to obtain food and feed themselves. This idea of self-reliance is a theme that is often seen in rural and remote communities who either do not wish to, or are unable to, rely on governmental resources. This area of thought also ties into another reason for teaching children how to hunt, cost savings. While hunting still costs money (in terms of start up costs and licenses) eating meat that you kill may help make eating meat more affordable. Therefore, children who hunt can act as providers for their family in some manner. Or, even if children and families do not hunt because they need to, they will sometimes donate their excess meat to food banks and other charitable organizations to help feed others in their communities.

Additionally, this conception of hunting is supported by potential necessity and the desire to ensure that children throughout their lives will not have to rely on others for sustenance. In 2014, about 40% of families living below the federal poverty line were food insecure (meaning they do not have enough to eat) and households that had children or were single parent households were particularly at risk. Over 50% of all food-insecure households are outside of metropolitan areas. Food deserts, areas that lack a grocery store, farmers' market and access to nutritious food, are a problem for rural Americans, especially in the south. For many rural individuals, grocery stores or other sources of nutritious food can be hundreds of miles and multiple hours away. Therefore, hunting for food may be a means to supplement food, particularly protein rich food, when it is otherwise scare or hard to come by.

Teaching Children About the Food Cycle

The second area of thought argues that hunters are actually conservationists and that by exposing children to hunting, they can be taught about the "balance of animals in the space that hosts them and the idea of taking only what you need." Hunting is also said to allow children to gain an understanding of the food cycle by connecting the meat they are eating with the animal. Teaching these lessons to children seems to be particularly important to those living in rural communities who often live closer to the "wilderness" where these animals live or who may otherwise be involved in food production on family or commercial farms.

When discussing this issue, the articles I read often also included a section about being prepared for children to cry or express other such emotions when they watch an animal die. Most of the articles were clear to advise that the children should not be shamed for this display of emotions, but should instead be told about the "circle of life" and how the "animal gave up its life to sustain" the lives of the hunters. This area of thought is also supported by those who wish to bypass the mass production and slaughter of animals.

People who support this area of thought also tend to espouse the health benefits of eating what you kill. The argument around this often involves food safety, as not eating commercial meat may allow individuals to avoid artificial preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics.

Though I am still not sure I support children hunting (especially if they are not even a teenager yet or if they are going out alone) but my research for this post has made it clear to me that I likely feel this way because I have never had to worry where my next meal will come from and have always simply bought my meat from the grocery store. However, between my research for these posts and other videos involving animal slaughter we have seen in class, I have decided to give up meat for awhile. This was likely not the point of the articles I read that championed teaching children about the food cycle (and I do think this is an incredibly important lesson for everyone to learn), but I need a break for a bit.

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