On hunting—a vegetarian’s journey

A sign on a gate that says "No Hunting"

Photo: Steven Depolo / Flickr
This used to be my position. Period.

Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly

First, my confession: I was a vegetarian for many years. No, it wasn’t a medical decision, and it wasn’t a natural aversion either—I liked meat, and had to make a conscious effort to cut it from my diet.

From what I can gather, this isn’t a very common position among the Norwegian crowd. Certainly it wasn’t too popular with my Norwegian family, who for quite some time struggled with the concept of non-meat meals. If our holiday meals are any indication of Norwegian cuisine, then I can see why. Take away the lutefisk from Christmas Eve’s dinner, and you’re left with buttery potatoes and flatbrød. This does not a meal make. (Although thankfully there was always caramel custard to look forward to—but that’s another story).

The reason I stopped eating animals is because it seemed wrong to me at the time. A gross waste of resources, at best; murder at worst. So you can probably guess what I thought of hunting. If you guessed that it was about the most abhorrent thing I could think of, you’d be close.

Eating animals—at least doing so the way most Americans do—still strikes me as a less moral choice than not doing so, even though I am now guilty of it on an almost daily basis (yes, I am a hypocrite). But my opinion of hunting has changed utterly.

It seems to me that people aren’t going to stop eating meat. That being the case, I feel the best thing we can do is try to make our relationship to that meat healthier. Factory farming is about the worst possible version of this relationship, for reasons that I hope I don’t need to go into. The lives of those animals are awful beyond belief, and the impact on the environment is huge.

Small farms and ranches that do things ethically are a good bet, but they still allow us a lot of distance from the food we eat, which seems sort of morally lazy to me (and again, let me remind you that I am a hypocrite). I think if we are willing to eat an animal we should be willing to get our hands dirty.

I once thought of hunters in a very negative light. Trophy hunters. Poachers. Elmer Fudd. And surely there are some moustache-twirling villains out there living down to the stereotype of the hunter gloating over a majestic corpse. But I’ve come to believe that most hunters are good people who, by coming into such close contact with the ugly part of eating, tend to develop a respect for life and for the animals they kill.

Not only that, but I learned that hunters tend to be some of the biggest conservationists! It makes sense if you think of it—in order for hunters to have something to hunt, they have to protect habitat and animal populations. I’m thinking this doesn’t always happen as perfectly as it should—there will always be some short-sighted, bad-apple poacher types—but at the very least it is good to have a self-interested population behind preservation of our natural spaces and the creatures who live in them.

So okay, go ahead and hunt. It seems like a hard thing to do, both physically and emotionally (or at least it would be for me). It seems messy, and pretty gross (I don’t even like to trim the fat from chicken breasts!), but also satisfying. And tasty.

For the record, I’m told that way back, before I could even pronounce the word “vegetarian,” one of my favorite foods was fresh elk burgers made from animals that had been lovingly murdered by my Norwegian grandfather or someone else we knew. I haven’t had anything like that in very many years, but I will be glad to try one if you’ll do the hunting, and the cooking. I’ll do the dishes.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.