Monday, February 13, 2012

Squirrel Death and Modern Anxiety

One of the things that led me to create the Urban Land Scouts was thinking about the point where the DIY elements of sustainability push up against and get in the way of our modern desires and habits. The local and sustainable food movements are some of my favorite examples of this tension.

As modern consumers we can enjoy a wide range of foods almost any time of year. If we seek to cut out some of the hidden costs and destructive elements of those foods-- things like long-distance shipping, inhumane and unsafe labor conditions, and toxic and dangerous agricultural and animal husbandry processes-- we must move towards a more diet that is limited or outlined by our bioregion and seasons. I am interested in the specifics of what such a diet demands and whether or not those elements are reasonable, scalable, and/or efficient.

Things like eating squirrel (or dog, for that matter, but no one here is going there yet...) are a great example of pushing that line between modern tastes (like eating lots of meat) and a desire to be more self-sustaining and connected to one's food. In the below episode of the Perennial Plate, an online series of documentaries about food outside the mainstream, host Daniel Klein goes out to hunt (and eat) squirrel. I cannot argue that Klein or his hunting host, John Ny Vang, need these animals for sustenance, but I can appreciate the meat-eater's desire to experience killing, gutting, skinning, and processing an animal for food. I share that desire. This is not necessarily reasonable, scalable, or efficient for all, but hopefully a piece of asking difficult questions about our lives, tastes, and habits.

The Perennial Plate Episode 34: How to kill a squirrel (and eat it) from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

Novelist and vegetarian super-author Jonathan Safran Foer would disagree with the need for so visceral a lesson as hunting your own meat. In his excellent book, Eating Animals, Foer compares the logic of participating in the animal's death as a means of understanding or accepting meat eating to saying that one would need to try murder to determine if it really was, in fact, wrong. To repeat the Thoreau quotation at the end of the Perennial Plate episode: The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest. Are the earnest deaths of these squirrels worth the lessons they impart to those who kill and eat them? Can we get the lesson from an online video instead? Or from a magazine article? What exactly are the lessons found in aiming a gun and skinning an animal? These are the things I consider as I move forward with the Urban Land Scouts and associated side work. I don't have answers yet.

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