Meat Eater by Steven Rinella

A loving exploration of hunting–and meat–in human history, and its role in our lives today, from the host of the Travel Channel’s The Wild Within.

Steven Rinella (American Buffalo) grew up hunting, trapping and fishing with his two older brothers. Hunting has played many roles in his life, from a source of income and food to a form of recreation and lifestyle. In a world that increasingly gets its meat from a supermarket, Rinella offers a passionate and reasoned ode to what he calls humankind’s oldest endeavor.

In a series of vignettes, Rinella recounts experiences from childhood through parenthood. He relates the first buck he didn’t get and the experience of trailing mountain lions in Arizona and Dall sheep in Alaska. He describes his first entrepreneurial scheme to trap small mammals and sell their fur, as well as a regretted dalliance with illegal hunting methods. He discusses hunters’ ethics, the rules upon which they do not universally agree, and the idea of “fair chase.” Occasionally, he offers tasting notes on various animals’ flesh, which may be useful to his fellow hunters along with his instructions on preparation–they may also help non-hunters understand the appeal of eating, say, squirrel (not to mention “camp meat”).

“Hunting stories are the oldest and most widespread form of story on earth,” Rinella observes; thus historical anecdotes about Daniel Boone and early hunter-gatherers accompany him in his evolution from hunting for fun and profit to hunting as a way to feed his own family efficiently and mindfully. Meat Eater is a book for the nature lover or the hunter as well as the uninitiated.

This review originally ran in the Sept. 10, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Further thoughts: I just wanted to expand upon the above review, written for Shelf Awareness, and share my personal reaction. I came to this book not entirely ready to ally with the idea of hunting (or even meat eating) as a lifestyle. I eat meat – but I am sympathetic to the vegetarian’s and the vegan’s position, and I was curious about Rinella’s perspective. So what did I find? I found that his arguments and his outlook were both reasonable and well-presented. I was able to sympathize with just about all he had to say. Even my best vegan buddy states that, if he were to eat meat, better that it should be hunted in the wild than captured from one’s grocery store. Still, the facts of our present-day situation – a limited amount of land space and a huge and still-growing population – make a plant-based diet much more efficient. It takes less land to feed a human plants than it takes to feed the animals that will then feed the human. This is more an argument in favor of agriculture than against hunting wild creatures, I know. But still, Rinella’s method works best because he is the tiny minority that he is. We can’t all go hunting in the backcountry for our dinners; the world would not support us all in that way. And just because our ancestors did things a certain way for hundreds or thousands of years, doesn’t mean we should do it that way today. In fact, just the opposite: the world has changed so greatly that it requires different methods of us.

Also, I had to part ways with Rinella when it came to hunting mountain lions. I’m going to stick firmly with Edward Abbey on this issue.

But all that said, this was a good book: well-presented arguments, relatively convincing (even though I’m not ready to sign up for the Rinella Way, he earns my agreement with many of his points), and enjoyable to read, not to mention educational. I had no problem writing the complimentary review, above.

Rating: 7 squirrels.

2 Responses

  1. In reference to your point about a plant-based diet more efficiently feeding us all, etc – which I would have totally agreed with a couple weeks ago (and generally still do, but…)

    While at a cousins’ B&B recently I found a new (old) book in their shelf and after a few arbitrary passages…I lifted it and have been reading deliberately since. “Endgame” is by Derrick Jensen, a radical environmentalist & much more – quite a thinker. No way to do justice here/now, but briefly he builds on a heritage of Edward Abbey, Dave Foreman, Bill Mckibben and so many more, to make the case that human culture is a house of cards built on unsustainable abuse of the planet – only he targets “civilization” itself as the cause and predicts an inevitable “crash” more fundamental than most (and technology won’t save us anymore.) And he does it in a most compelling manner: detailed, thoughtful, logical, fact based, etc – i.e., right up my alley. So anyway you will be hearing more about this.

    The point for now is that he explains the only reason we can claim “agriculture” can support people “better” is because technology (based almost wholly on unsustainable energy) has for now squeezed so much out of a depleted landbase – and cannot last. For this and many other reasons, for the (only) sustainable alternative he actually points in part to… your guy’s traditional hunting. Obviously (he posits), the world can only sustainably support drastically fewer people – like it once did when indigenous communities dominated the landscape. It is only our “civilized” mind that considers “hunters & gatherers” to be a primitive model. More obviously, this raises myriad other questions. Stay tuned!

    • That final point, that “it is only our ‘civilized’ mind that considers ‘hunters & gatherers’ to be a primitive model,” is one Rinella agrees with. And the earlier concept that civilization is the cause of all our problems, is very Abbey! But yes, I’d like to hear more about Jensen.

      What you say (Jensen says) makes perfect sense. Rinella is right that this traditional means is reasonable, natural, and healthy; but the key here is that it will support a tiny fraction of our current population. You’re right, grand-scale agriculture isn’t much better, or isn’t going to take us much further.

      I think the key here is drastic population reduction, but now we’re in a whole new fun & controversial area…

      Thanks for the comment! How old is Jensen’s book? Amazon shows it in two volumes, from 2006. Not too long in terms of humans’ effect on global systems…

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