The good, the bad, and the hungry

Two weeks ago, I got an email from Michelle Scheuermann, a spokesperson for The Sportsman Channel.

Hunt.Fish.Feed.—a project Michelle works on, bringing donated game and fish to the hungry—was getting some bad press. She wondered if I would take a look and share my thoughts. Given my journey from veganism to hunting, she thought I might have some insight.

I smiled. It was a nice way of saying that I might be weird enough to understand both sides of the thing.

Curiosity aroused, I clicked the link.

The post—“Kill Wild Animals to Feed the Homeless and Poor?”—was short.

The author, Jake Richardson, challenged Hunt.Fish.Feed.’s economic efficiency, asking why money should be spent on “gasoline, bullets, permits, beverages and other hunting gear” and on game-processing, rather than on “much more affordable produce.”

But his fundamental objections were moral. The Hunt.Fish.Feed. project, he wrote, “smacks of self-promotion…the promotion of killing wild animals for sport.”

More striking were the comments. The post had already drawn nearly 500, most of them vehemently supportive of Richardson’s position. I could see why Michelle had been amazed by the hatred expressed there. But I wasn’t surprised.

Fifteen years ago, as an anti-hunting vegan, I would have agreed with Richardson and his supporters: Hunting is morally wrong. Modern humans don’t need to hunt to survive, and killing for fun is depraved. There are more humane and cost-effective ways to feed the hungry.

Like some of the commenters, I might have accused Hunt.Fish.Feed. of being “another desperate excuse to try and justify [hunters’] blood lust” and a “way…to whitewash their evil.” Like Richardson, I might have listed “beverages,” but not food, as a subset of “hunting gear”; aren’t all hunters notorious beer-swillers?

The polar opposite view is just as easy for me to imagine: All legal hunting is honorable. Using game to feed the hungry is an obvious good, perhaps evoking traditional hunting cultures where successful hunters help feed a whole village. Cost-effectiveness has nothing to do with it. (My garden may not be the most efficient way to produce food. But why not plant an extra row of beans or corn to help feed a needy neighbor?)

Many of us, though, don’t see hunting in stark black or white. What do we think of a project like Hunt.Fish.Feed.?

Do we see it as a sincere effort to help, or as disingenuous self-promotion? If the project partnered with vegetarians to offer more diverse meals at future Hunt.Fish.Feed. events, as Michelle has told me they might, would that strike us as a praiseworthy attempt at collaboration, or as a blatant marketing stunt?

And how do we feel about the donated meat itself? Do our opinions—like most Americans’ attitudes toward hunting—hinge on why the hunters hunt and why the animals are killed?

Would we approve of hunters seeking out game specifically to donate it, but disapprove of them killing “for sport,” as Richardson put it, and donating the meat only as an afterthought? Would we approve of meat donations that resulted from an ecologically necessary culling of deer, but disapprove of those that resulted from a trophy hunt where venison was never part of the aim?

Personally, I hunt for food. I hunt for the humbling reminder of my impact as a living being. I hunt for a deeper understanding of the land and my place in it, one animal among many.

I don’t hunt for antlers. I don’t enjoy killing. I don’t live in a village that depends on my hunting for survival. And the deer population in my immediate area is not so dense as to present impending danger, ecological or otherwise.

So I don’t kill more deer than Cath and I can make use of, with a few pounds given away here and there.

Yet, if a second deer came my way in a single autumn, might I not raise my bow or firearm, with my mother’s, sisters’, and friends’ freezers in mind?

And what if I knew that a needy family or a group of homeless folks—perhaps unknown to me—would end up with the meat? Would I kill a deer for them?

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Phillip says:

    Wow… further proof that there are always more sides than one to any story!

    The Hunt.Fish.Feed. program is certainly a promotional tour, let’s make no mistake about it. It’s a PR campaign wrapped in a very worthwhile cause to provide wild game meat to those who can’t provide their own. It’s a mobile advertisement for The Sportsman’s Channel and for the other paying sponsors who get to put up their banners at the event and on any media coverage. It’s an effort as well to show hunters as other than the selfish, game-hog, stereotypes that we’ve accrued over the generations.

    So is it a bad thing? Does it cheapen either message?

    Of course I don’t think so, as I’ve been a supporter since I first heard about the program this winter. Why not promote sport hunting, AND THE FACT THAT HUNTED MEAT GETS EATEN, through a service-oriented campaign? The way I see it, it’s a double win.

    And let’s face it… if there weren’t some financial incentive, corporations and businesses wouldn’t be putting their sponsorship dollars behind it. And without those dollars, many charitable programs would never get off the ground.

    Besides, while Hunt.Fish.Feed. is a very public program, keep in mind that many states have been providing hunter-killed meat through foodbanks and programs like Hunters For The Hungry for quite some time now. It’s a great program, particularly in states that are dealing with the overpopulation of deer and hogs. In addition to providing affordable meat to the needy, it’s an added (and often necessary) incentive for hunters to take more animals than they can use.

    It’s a tricky piece of ground, but it’s a critical aspect of “hunter as wildlife management tool”. You’ll find, in general, that most hunters will stop hunting when the freezer is full, especially when it comes to big game. This is sensible from a self-sufficiency perspective, of course, but to the game managers, this doesn’t help to achieve their population and harvest goals. These donation programs encourage hunters to take a few more, safe in the knowledge that the meat won’t be wasted and their efforts will be serving a good purpose.

    Does that mean the hunters are all altruistic and stuff, and we’re only doing this to feed the poor folks and control wildlife populations? Of course not. We hunt because we enjoy hunting. That never changes, and nobody is making that argument. It’s just another way we can do what we love, and provide a little something for those less fortunate at the same time.

    • Tovar says:

      Oh, yes, always more than one side! And usually more than two or three!

      It makes sense that, to keep on hunting after their families’ freezers are full, most hunters would need the incentive of knowing that the meat would go to someone who needs it. I certainly would. As you point out, that makes any meat donation program potentially useful to wildlife managers facing overpopulation problems.

      Yes, I was thinking about Hunters for the Hungry, too. I wonder if they have faced similar attacks and if Hunt.Fish.Feed. is getting particular attention because it is, by design, more visible.

  2. Josh says:

    Great post. I’m particularly impressed at the sincerity shown by the Hunt.Fish.Feed. people, asking you to explain the other side, and asking if overtures like providing a vegetarian option would help to alleviate the ill will. Those are very cool questions and ideas.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Josh. Yes, I think Michelle and her colleagues were genuinely surprised by the intense negative reaction to “helping the hungry” and really do want to understand it better.

  3. Arthur says:

    It is very interesting to read about a particular subject, such as this one, Tovar, and be able to do it from a point of view that truly understands both sides.

    For me, personally, I would definitely pull the trigger or release an arrow in order to put meat in a family members freezer – or to put meat in a soup kitchen’s freezer.

    I can’t believe that any person would criticize an ethical means to provide food for a less fortunate person’s stomach. It is amazing to me the depths that they will go to.

    I suppose I cannot relate to the other side as well as you do, but I just find it incredible that they would discourage any person, by any legal means, from donating needed meat to any organization, person, family, etc.

    • Tovar says:

      I suppose the world would look simpler if I only understood one side!

      To answer my own rhetorical question: Yes, I, too, would kill to put meat in another’s freezer. A few years ago, I hunted in Vermont’s December muzzleloader season after having shot a buck in the November rifle season. I didn’t feel any great need to continue hunting, and I was partly hunting to give a friend some companionship. But if a second deer had come my way, I expect I would have shot, knowing family and friends who would welcome the meat.

      I expect I would also kill to donate to a soup kitchen or similar program, if I went to the woods with that purpose clearly in mind.

      Yes, it does seem unbelievable that anyone would criticize “an ethical means” of feeding the hungry. That’s the issue, of course: for some folks, hunting is not “an ethical means.” (For these folks, the fact that hunting is a “legal means” is beside the point. More on this below in my reply to Holly…)

  4. Oh boy.

    When I first saw this post, my inclination was to click over and help too, and then I realized how profoundly tired I am this week of fighting these online battles. I just don’t have enough time in my day tend to all my pet projects, and sometimes other work has to take precedence.

    Then I clicked on the link and saw it was Care2. Oh boy. I’ve fought a LOT of battles over there, and quickly learned that the site is heavily populated by people so far removed from reality that they make Hollywood look grounded. Most of the time I work to counter idiotic statements about hunting on the Internet, but when I see idiotic things on Care2, I don’t even bother with them anymore. Like PETA, it is irrelevant in the court of public opinion.

    But I know, Tovar, you’re looking for a more reasoned response than this from me, and I will try to muster one.

    First, Phillip is right: Of course HuntFishFeed is a promotional thing, and of course companies engage in philanthropic efforts because they believe in the PR value (and let’s give them credit for a genuine concern about philanthropy as well – the two are not mutually exclusive). And if in the process of this project a bunch of non-hunters learn that, duh, hunters actually eat what they kill, even better. We deserve credit for that.

    And of course, the donated meat won’t help poor and homeless vegetarians and vegans, as the Care2 writer complains. But for the love of Pete, food banks and soup kitchens are piled high with animal proteins EVERY SINGLE DAY (or at least every day they’re lucky enough to have piles of food), and I don’t hear the writer crying that the homeless vegans – if they exist – are put out by this. And I certainly don’t hear the writer crying that the vast majority of the animal protein at food banks and soup kitchens likely derives from factory farming, which is hands-down the most heinous way to treat both animals and the environment.

    And is the Care2 writer really concerned about the fact that hunted game is a labor-intensive food source? Hey, pal, if it’s my labor, it’s my choice. Worry about yourself.

    The fact is this is just a guy who doesn’t like meat-eating or meat-eaters, and HuntFishFeed was just another way for him to write about it. I’m sure he could’ve just as easily pissed all over the great program – forget whether it’s SCI or NRA – that helped hunters donate game to be sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, because hey, those men and women couldn’t possibly use any protein.

    Now, enough of him and on to your questions: I hunt for a lot of reasons, including the great, nutritious, healthy food and the fact that I love the act of hunting itself – it is what humans and our predecessors have done for millenia, and I find connecting to that, being what I’m supposed to be, is a joy. I also love that it deepens my appreciation for all living things on this planet, and makes me infinitely more grateful for my food than shopping at the supermarket does. I am not ashamed of any of these motivations.

    If my freezer were full, but I knew I could go on a hunt and the meat would go to a good cause, would I still do it? Hell yes. It’s an opportunity to do what I love and help feed the poor all at the same time. Where I draw the line is right here: I won’t kill an animal for nothing. There has to be a reason, and providing food for a homeless person sounds like a pretty good reason to me. So long as it’s done in accordance with state and federal laws designed to ensure the health of game species, I have no problem with it.

    And finally, should the Sportsman Channel provide vegetarian/vegan options? No. I think it would be silly. If the Sportsman Channel had some shows on horticulture, it would make sense, but it’s a channel that caters to hunters and anglers, and this is a program that connects its audience to a charitable cause. Sportsman Channel donating vegetarian entrees would be like asking the HSUS to donate meat – very silly. (And btw, HSUS serves vegan food at its functions – no pity for the poor omnivores in that shop).

    All right, I’ve said what I had to say. Back to work.

    • Tovar says:

      Oh, yes, I agree. Fighting such battles is pointless in some forums. Your chances of convincing anti-hunting vegans that hunting is a good way to obtain food are about as dismal as your chances of convincing lifelong hunters and NRA members that raw fruits and salads are all one can ethically eat.

      Yet I understand the things that are said at both ends of the spectrum.

      You and Phillip have laid out good cases for support of programs like Hunt.Fish.Feed.

      Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. (Here, I whip out a hat with an anti-hunting vegan slogan plastered across the front. In another conversation, of course, the hat on this devil’s advocate—and perhaps on the devil himself—would be camo or blaze orange. ;-))

      If I see something as evil, then I will feel additional outrage if that evil tries to present itself as doing good. Take anything you abhor—slavery, perhaps, or factory farming—and imagine its proponents launching a PR campaign in which a social good like feeding the hungry is accomplished. If someone sells children into slavery or brutally confines animals for profit, do we applaud him for donating a portion of the proceeds to charity? Or do we criticize him all the more vehemently? If the practice is legal, does that blunt our outrage?

      So, yes, a fundamental anti-hunting sentiment underlies Richardson’s post and the comments that supported it.

      Most Americans, however, are not part of the fundamentally anti-hunting minority. Nor are they part of the fundamentally pro-hunting minority. This, I think, is the important middle ground. This is the court of majority opinion where hunting—and programs like Hunt.Fish.Feed.—will either gain or lose credibility.

      This, I think, is where we must pay attention to the same things that most non-hunters pay attention to: not whether hunting is fundamentally good or evil, but the more nuanced questions of how hunters behave, how understandably we articulate our reasons for hunting, and how respectful we are of animals and nature.

      • Thinking hunting is evil – this is why I never try to change the minds of anti-hunting vegetarians/vegans. They’ve made their choice, as have I. As in politics, ALL of these debates/PR efforts target the people in the middle, the ones who don’t have strong feelings the other way. And if one of those people wrote a screed on the Internet, that’d be worth worrying about – and I’d fight back because the audience is worth fighting for.

        All that said, I truly believe the discussions we have with the Ingrids and Hutchinsons of the world do matter because they help all of us see the shades of gray in worldviews that might otherwise seem black and white – even though Ingrid and Hutch aren’t likely ever to agree with the premise that it’s OK to kill animals.

        • Josh says:

          I’ll point out that Tovar here thought hunting was evil at one time, too. Many are willing to really consider even ideas they think evil, if they see reasonable and loving people doing it and defending it.

          • Tovar says:

            That’s true, Josh.

            I don’t think anyone could have convinced me through argumentation and debate. But reading thoughtful, respectful writing about hunting, and knowing hunters who were obviously compassionate lovers of nature and wildlife? Yes, those were important factors in changing my perspective. I have a blog post or two in mind, paying tribute to such influences.

    • Jean says:


      Donated meat helps the vegetarians because it means the non-vegetarians won’t eat as much of the food that vegetarians eat.

      My two cents.

  5. Phillip says:

    Great discussion, and I think Tovar hit one key point that’s been oft repeated, but this is definitely a case where familiarity shouldn’t breed contempt.

    If you would look at this from the point of view of the anti-hunter/animal-rights activist, you must consider that to that mindset, there is no redeeming quality that will justify hunting… Not feeding the hungry, feeding our souls, or managing wildlife populations and habitat. To them, it’s a criminal atrocity against animals. As Holly pointed out, there’s not much hope in debating/arguing with these folks. It would be like a Jew trying to convince a devout Baptist that Jesus Christ was “just a guy”. It ain’t gonna sell.

    However, I totally agree with Tovar that the strongest voices on either side are the “fringes”. The target, of course, is the majority in the middle. The value of our ongoing discussions with the anti-hunters is that it gives us the opportunity to influence that middle group because if we don’t, then they will only hear one voice.

    • Tovar says:

      Though I hunt, in many ways I am part of that “middle.”

      I’m not in favor of all hunting any more than I’m in favor of all practices that fall into any other category of human activity. I do my best to be open-minded to hunters’ various perspectives, but my own opinion does hinge on how and why the hunting is done.

      And I, like many hunters, want to see hunter behaviors and attitudes grow increasingly respectful and ethical.

  6. Eric Nuse says:

    I was interested in the comments concerning Care2. They are the ones that embraced the save Pete the Moose campaign and helped it go viral. Apparently they didn’t realize the guy illegally holding Pete was running a high fence shooting operation. As a result of their campaign and some sordid political maneuvering in the VT legislature, all the moose and deer enclosed on Nelson’s land have been turned over to him to do with what he wants – including bringing in “hunters” to shoot them for big profits. Way to go Care2!
    Head over to my Fair Chase blog if you want to read more of this sad story.

    • Tovar says:

      I encourage folks to check out Eric’s blog posts on this. As he points out there, it goes well beyond misinformed good intentions and sets a dangerous precedent.

      As I understand it, the animals on this “preserve” are now entirely outside state jurisdiction. They are no longer part of the public trust. They can be killed for private profit, at any time of year, without a hunting license.

      I really hope this legislative mess gets overturned.

      • Phillip says:

        I posted a much longer comment over at Eric’s blog, but in short, I think we’re seeing something of a tempest in a teacup (sorry, it’s a good day for cliches).

        This is not the end of the world for VT’s wildlife, for the hunters, and certainly not for the People of the Great State of Vermont. It’s not even close.

        Keep in mind that the animals on the preserve were going to be slaughtered by the State. They were not simply going to be released back into the wild herds because of the perceived threat of CWD and other diseases (a threat which I also think has become significantly over-promoted). Handing them over to Nelson (or, rather, handing the regulation of wildlife farms to the Dept of Agriculture) was a sensible thing in this case. He can feed them until they die, or he can have hunters come kill them. As a farm owner, he is now required to manage the health of these animals in order to keep his non-native herds healthy. Regardless, there is no further cost to the State.

        That said… I totally believe that native species SHOULD belong to The People, and no private party should be permitted to corral them… especially not for profit. In the long run, there definitely needs to be some regulation to prevent folks from intentionally fencing in wild, native species for fun or profit. That can be as simple as a prohibition on financial gain from hunting these previously wild animals.

        • Tovar says:

          No, not the end of the world, that’s true. But it makes me uneasy.

          I hope it’s just an isolated case. And I hope it doesn’t persist, with the corralled deer reproducing or new deer being introduced.

  7. Doug says:

    Great conversation. It is always interesting to see things from the other side. I don’t get it, but I find value in knowing there are people who feel this strongly. Thanks for putting it out there. I’ve added a link to this post.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for posting the link on your blog, Doug!

      I’m pleased to hear that you, like me, are interested in hearing other perspectives, even ones you have trouble relating to. Paying attention to the diversity of what is said on a particular issue really helps me understand what’s going on. And it helps broaden and deepen my own views, too.

      Now I just need to get a few of my vegetarian readers to jump into the fray here! 🙂

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for the link, Holly! Interesting. It was good to hear that she insisted on getting meat to local women and children.

      That sort of scenario, while common enough in Africa, I suppose, is somewhat bizarre if you think about it. I’m trying to imagine a parallel: The local villagers here in Vermont need meat, but we can’t go out and shoot it ourselves. One person can: the last international hunter who will be in the area this year, perhaps some rich Spanish Count and a buddy of his named Ortega-y-something. The other locals and I sit around hoping that this Count bags something really big so we can eat. Hmmm.

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