Seven days a week, I got up around 5:00. I went to my computer. I stayed there. If I woke up at 2:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep, I got up then.
No, I did not rest a lot, and no, I was not a lot of fun to live with. Ask Cath. I took to telling friends that I didn’t bother with the clutch anymore, I just left myself in fifth gear.
On the book front, I was thinking about my own journey into hunting, and about ethics and ecology, religion and philosophy, and the history of human/wildlife relationships in North America. I’m happy to report that I now have a complete draft of The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance. I’ll be making revisions over the next few weeks, then the manuscript is off to my editor at Pegasus.
On the thesis front, I was thinking about other people’s journeys into hunting, analyzing 28 hours of audio recordings: the result of interviews I did with 24 adult-onset hunters. (According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a full third of first-time hunters are 21 or older.) Most of my interviewees live here in the Northeast. On average, they started hunting in their early 30s and have been at it for 8 years.
If I had to sum up my findings in a few sentences, I’d say this:
- Participants spoke of hunting as a deeply meaningful way of (1) being fully engaged with the natural world, (2) experiencing connection and belonging, and (3) cultivating ethically and ecologically responsible relationships with animals and nature, especially in terms of food.
- They spoke of these things as being particularly meaningful in the context of the modern world. Hunting was talked about as a response to modern life, as a physical and spiritual remedy for the disengagement, disconnection, irresponsibility, and unhealthiness of industrial society and industrial food systems.
- Participants also talked about the mixed feelings that accompany (and should accompany) the act of killing, and about the ethical imperatives of killing swiftly and making use of animals, especially as food.
In talking about being fully engaged, interviewees described the magic of listening as the forest wakes at dawn, and the wonder of seeing thousands of ducks rise up off a coastal bay. They spoke of the meditative, reflective experience of sitting quietly for hours on end, waiting. They spoke of the excitement of seeing an animal and of the intense, fully present alertness required of the hunter.
In talking about connection and belonging, they spoke of feeling connected to land, nature, and animals, to spirit, to other people, to our ancestry as a species, and to something deep within human nature.
In talking about responsibility, they spoke not just of hunting, but also of gardening, foraging, raising chickens, and keeping bees. They spoke of all these practices as ways of living well, of understanding our impacts on animals and nature, and of cultivating a deepened sense of what it means to eat.
In talking about the modern world, they spoke of how our fast-paced, money-driven lifestyles diminish our experience of being alive. They spoke, too, of how our high-tech, industrialized society disconnects us from the earth that feeds us, and of how it harms nature and animals, especially in factory farming. (I was sitting at my computer as I wrote up these findings. I was totally plugged in, my arms locked in a bent position. The irony did not escape me.)
The basic beliefs apparent in all this talk—about the value inherent in feeling connected to nature, for instance, or about the moral importance of treating animals humanely—are, of course, shared by many non-hunters.
Naturally, there was diversity in how people talked. Some participants, for instance, emphasized the importance of having a hands-on connection with their food sources, but never mentioned spiritual connection. Not surprisingly, those who lived in Massachusetts and along the central California coast spoke of local hostility to hunting, while those who lived in Maine, Vermont, and Alaska spoke of much greater acceptance.
Most participants grew up in non-hunting or anti-hunting families. But a few grew up in active hunting families and simply didn’t start hunting until adulthood. The contrasts between these two groups—and the reactions of a few other lifelong hunters who have reviewed summaries of my results—have led me to some speculations on the different ways we talk and think, both about hunting and about why we hunt.
But enough for now.
The short story is that the thesis—“Meat and Meanings: Adult-Onset Hunters’ Cultural Discourses of the Hunt”—will be filed with the UMass-Amherst Graduate School in June. I just need to make a few final edits, based on helpful suggestions offered by committee members Donal Carbaugh and Benjamin Bailey during my defense.
For anyone who really wants to read the 140-page academic text, I’ll happily share it. For those who prefer something shorter and more reader-friendly, I plan to find homes for a couple of related magazine articles.
I hope my findings will prove useful to fellow hunters, to non-hunters who want to understand why some of us hunt, and to hunter education programs, wildlife agencies, and conservation organizations interested in reaching out to existing adult-onset hunters or recruiting new ones.
I have a hunch that adult-onset hunters may be of increasing value in public dialogues about hunting. Many of us can talk and listen across the hunting/non-hunting divide. We might prove to be useful ambassadors, especially if—as sociologist Jan Dizard has predicted—hunting continues to “edge nearer and nearer the center of our ‘culture wars.’”
In April, I discussed my research at the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference. In June, I’ll be discussing it at the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Conference. I’m looking forward to seeing where these conversations lead, and to putting the finishing touches on both the thesis and the book manuscript.
In the past couple weeks, though, I’ve been enjoying some time away from the computer. For one thing, my limbs have straightened out again.
© 2011 Tovar Cerulli