Appetizers
March 20, 2013
More on Hank Shaw: his poignant thoughts on killing for food

duck.jpg

Yesterday we told you about local food blogger and author Hank Shaw's third nomination for a James Beard award. Today, I thought I'd give you an idea of why he was nominated and, more than that, why deserves to win.

One of the reasons I like Shaw and his work is because he is not smug about hunting and killing. His sensitivity is very admirable and, it seems, essential to the way he lives his life.

I eat meat -- in my job as a restaurant critic, I am obligated to eat nearly everything and be open-minded about it -- but I am also an animal lover. During my daily walks with the dogs along the river, I often see ducks and geese going about their business. Often, I will stop and marvel at the simple beauty and elegance of a duck skimming to a landing on the water's surface, or look upward and appreciate the power and precision -- and ingenuity -- of geese flying in formation, much the way we cyclists clumsily try to do it in a peloton to save energy.

Shaw's work centers around honest eating, and if you read him closely, you'll see that many who attend his talks haven't come to grips with all that he does. He kills the animals he eats. We -- those of us who eat meat in the modern world -- let others do it for us. We don't want to confront those twisted emotions.

On that note, here's a passage by Shaw on what it means to kill. And I have to say, the way he lives -- the honesty and integrity he exudes as he pursues his next meaty meal -- suggests he is operating on a higher plane than most of us.


Shaw writes:

To deal (with) death is to experience your world exploding. It is an avalanche of emotion and thought and action.

Armed with a shotgun, it is often done without thought, on instinct alone. A flushing grouse gives you no more than a few seconds to pull the trigger before it disappears into the alders. A rabbit can leap back into the brambles in even less time. Unless you are perfect in that split second, the animal wins. And being human, we are far from perfect. Even with ducks, where you often have plenty of time to prepare for the shot, their speed and agility are more than adequate defenses. We hunters fail more than we succeed.

This is why we will often whoop it up when we finally bring a bird down: We are not being callous, rejoicing in the animal's death. It is a hard-wired reaction to succeeding at something you have been working for days, months, even years to achieve. In some corner of your brain, it means you will eat today. This reaction can look repulsive from the outside.

Should you arm yourself with a rifle, you then must wrestle your conscious mind. Buck fever is real. A huge set of antlers will hypnotize the best of us, man and woman alike. Even if the animal lacks antlers, as mine often do, you have to contend with The Twin Voices: On one shoulder sits a voice shouting, Shoot! Shoot! You might not get another chance! On the other shoulder sits another voice, grave and calm: Be careful. You must not put that bullet in a place where the animal will suffer. Better to pass a shot than wound an animal. A wise hunter does not kill lightly.

To read that entire essay, click here. Shaw's website is Honest-food.net

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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