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40 responses to “The Imperative of Protein”

  1. Steve Garver

    Thanks for the thoughtful reminder, I have a turkey in the back that I have been putting off harvesting. Maybe something for the Super Bowl.

  2. chuck

    being from ohio, i apologize for your experience but everyone knows it can happen anywhere. you’re a bigger man than me for walking away.

    i know the work you write about….it is quite arduous. same goes for raising or gathering your own plant food. it makes you respect your food in a whole new way. you want every morsel to be used. people are just too out of touch with their food these days.

  3. Coleman Housefield

    Hank- this is a wonderfully written piece. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Stephanie Gaignat

    “I choose to live under the Imperative of Protein because it requires me to understand — and accept — the full karmic cost of eating meat.” My thoughts exactly! Hunting and cleaning your own meat gives a new appreciation for life and death. Your article is beautifully written. Thanks for putting it out there.

  5. Melody DeLury

    Yes, Yes, Yes! We raise more and more of our own food (meats included) each year. Sometimes in talking with other moms (being a mom of little ones, I talk to a lot of other moms with kids in the age range of my kids) they’ll say things like bone in meats bother them or any blood coming from their meat makes them squeamish. I will give them a smirk knowing that just a few months earlier we may have butchered a half dozen extra roosters or a few ducks for our freezer.

    Anyhow, love what you wrote.

  6. Al Webster

    Well said!

  7. Gill'sCustomLeather

    Talk about work! I’ve never paid another man to process any of my harvests. Really gives you a sense of accomplishment and high regard for the meat you put on the table. Also reminds you just how valuable our natural resources are.

  8. Brian

    I have been reading your blog for a few months and this is my first comment. I agree 100% about processing my own animals and fish. I have buddies that drop their deer of at lockers, I enjoy the process full circle of killing an animal, cleaning, butchering and cooking.

    Thanks for the great read.
    PS I cannot wait to get home and eat the trout I have in a brine for dinner!

  9. Thomas Williams

    Great post. I love these retrospectives almost as much as a I love the recipes.

  10. Marianne Belardi

    Provocative food for thought, eloquently plated up!

  11. Aimee St.Germain

    Wonderful article. I feel this is something that has been lost with the abundance of cleanly vacuum-packed boneless-skinless chicken breasts popular in so many grocery stores. My dad and grandfather were both meat cutters, so I’ve always had a fascination with butchering. My husband and I have come to greatly enjoy cooking whole fish; and I love buying whole chickens, breaking them down and using the scraps for stock. Your article inspires me to continue this trend – a local charcuterie shop offers classes in breaking down and cooking various animals. I’m excited to sign up!

  12. Bjorn Krauer

    What a fantastic article, superbly written and exactly captures my own passion soap box topic, if you’re going to eat a living thing, show it the respect of knowing where it came from and try and waste as little as possible of it. While I’m not a hunter, I am fortunate enough to live in in a semi rural community and of late have been raising my own pigs and lambs, albeit on a friends farm. My mom in law is horrified that I insist on my kids aged 5 and 2 helping me to feed and care for the animals and then allowing them to watch/help me break down the carcasses. She reckons meat should be presented shiny and red on a sort of sanitary pad in a supermarket fridge…. The look on her face is priceless when my 5 year old son starts telling her about the pigs brain and how it tasted when dad fried it up….

  13. Trish

    Being a city gal, I often tease that – in my world – chickens are born fully grown directly onto Styrofoam…. but I know better. My parents are neither hunters nor anglers, but never made a secret about where our food came from. Friends and family members have farmed, and I’ve even participated in a chicken harvest. My husband has a degree in culinary arts and routinely breaks down chickens and fish. Even pork is processed in our tiny condo kitchen.

    There is still so much more that we can do. This article is an eye-opener, thank you for sharing it!

  14. Dave Keane

    Great article. Nothing compares to harvesting your own game or vegatables from the garden. I just got your book and I can’t wait to make some of the recipes. If I could only get my wife to eat venison,no more beef from the supermarket! Raise your kids right, teach them to garden, fish and hunt, our world would be a better place.

  15. E. Nassar

    Yet another wonderfully phrased and thought out article Hank. It’s amazing how much work it is to process your own meat. Recently I had to process 10 ducks and that was the work of almost half a day! A messy one too. Tell you what though, I cooked (and still am cooking) through those ducks that I hunted, plucked, gutted and portioned out with the utmost care and respect. Reminds me of the Thomas Keller story in the French Laundry book about the rabbits. As for the lady in Ohio, you are too nice Hank. You should always have a (pardon my French) “Fuck Off!” holstered and ready to go for just people like her.

  16. Carter

    Great write up, Hank.

    I have often remarked to my fishing and foraging buddies that I find the time I spend hunched over the fillet table or sink after a day of fishing or mushroom hunting to be in some ways as satisfying as any other aspect of the hunt. There is no question that it is time consuming labor, but whether we’re hunters, farmers or foragers, people like us spend so much time seeking out our prey or tending the crop, only to have the actual capture or harvest over in mere moments. So often it is as we set ourselves to cleaning up and breaking down that animal/plant/fungus and converting it from a “thing” to a meal that we are finally able to take the time to admire its anatomy, form, and beauty. In those instances where a buddy takes care of the catch processing for me while I tend to some other clean up or duty, I find that the hunt feels somewhat incomplete; lopsided. Cleaning my game provides a period of quite reflection that enables me to fully-own the entire hunt experience.

    While I love sharing my catch with my friends and loved ones, it bums me out when I get the sense that some of them feel only a slightly closer connection to the locally harvested, neatly vacuum-sealed lingcod fillets I hand to them as they would to a similarly packaged block of imported tilapia pulled from the Safeway freezer aisle. I have encouraged coworkers to accept from me whole fish, with the scales, heads, and guts intact so that they might engage in the activity of gutting, scaling and filleting. So far only one coworker has taken me up on the offer, but it seemed as though she enjoyed the process and learned something from it.

    Oh, and you mentioned the labor of processing vegetables, but don’t forget about the hours so often spent hunched over the sink trimming, brushing and washing dust-covered porcini and mud-crusted chanterelles!

  17. Javahead

    It’s been some years since I last hunted deer (used to be a family thing with my grandfather and brothers), but that’s a part I remember clearly: the first year I was allowed to go along, my grandfather had me help clean and skin the kill. My brothers went through the same initiation. Ditto for small game and fish. Though he kept trophies, my grandfather viewed eating our game, and providing as clean a kill as possible, as moral imperatives. And he felt that if you couldn’t or wouldn’t do a good job of cleaning your prey you had no business hunting.

    As my grandfather aged, and my brothers and I started careers and families of our own, this tradition finally languished and died. But some of the most vivid memories are the conversations as worked together to clean and process our bag. Few things bring you together as much as working together – and few things spur your pride as much as doing a good job with people you respect.

  18. Sarah

    I recently found your blog while searching for corned duck recipes. My husband is the hunter in the family (my oldest son had his first turkey hunt last spring -so soon to be 2 hunters) and we share in the processing duties. We also raise our own beef and goats and have a small garden. I couldn’t agree more that processing one’s own food increases your appreciation for the creature it came from as well as generating a feeling of completion in the circle of life. I often tell my clients (I’m a veterinarian in a mixed animal practice with a large beef clientele) that my oldest son, who was 6 at the time, asked me when we were going to butcher the steer we had bottle raised because he wanted a steak. The freezer was getting a little lean at that point and even at such a young age he had made the connection between live animal and the food we eat.

    I strongly feel that if more children were exposed to the reality of life, death and protein consumption in a compassionate way the world would be a better place. We respect the creatures that provide us with high quality protein – whether they are domestic or wild and appreciate the gift that their deaths provide us.

  19. FarmSchooler

    HUNTING: Thursday morning (this week) is the last day of the 2012-13 squirrel season. Quail (ends Feb 15) & rabbit (ends Mar 15) are still in open season. Since 10/1/12, we’ve tagged 3 deer, and then taken 2 rabbits and 30-40 squirrels. We also raised 3 young beef calves, 12-16 ducks, 3 turkeys and 12-16 suckling pigs. We’ve taken no wild hogs this year. Looking forward to turkey season opening Mar 30th (youth turkey hunt weekend).

    FORAGING: We have 3 pecan trees and 1 almond tree on the property, but none are producing yet. Have neighbors with walnut trees they dont harvest for themselves though…will try to get those this year.

    SHOPPING: Ive purchased about 60lbs of chicken pieces (thighs & leg qtrs) and right at 40lbs of chicken frames (for stock). We go thru 3-4lbs of cheese, 4lbs of butter, 4-6 doz eggs and 3-4 gallons of fresh milk PER WEEK…all purchased various places. I also try to keep walnuts & pecans on hand (thru our buying club) for snacking…peanut & cashew butters occasionally too.

    Its a year-round pursuit to have the best of foods for my family, but Id not have it any other way. ?

  20. Jim

    Spot on Hank, as always. Refreshing, after a week of gun control…

  21. mael

    Hi raised or hunted all my family’s meat for several years ,glad there are so many others who do, in england it has become a rarity.

  22. Vicky

    So eloquently put, Hank! Your posts always have me nodding along in agreement, wishing that more people could be bothered to take the time to think about where their food comes from. And all to often I am faced with people like your lady from Ohio. Not all of them are so confronting. Some of them just mention in passing that butchering an animal seems so barbaric, then proceed to munch on their store-bought rotisserie chicken.

    My Dad’s a hunter. And my parents have been careful not to allow me to become out of touch with food. As a child, I remember watching and helping to pluck, kill, drain, and gut in the home kitchen.

    When some of my friends asked to go on a hunting trip with my Dad, I made sure they skinned and gutted their own rabbits. It was interesting to watch them sober up after the thrill of shooting them.

  23. Chris S.

    Deep, dude. Deep.
    (but true)

  24. Virgil S.

    Thoughtful, well written article as always. I recently faced the same sort of comment as your Ohio experience. Except the person making the comment to me did it while cutting a piece of his ribeye. I just shook my head. People never cease to amaze.

  25. Kate Hill

    Well said, Hank. There are those days when the voice of the cook and gatherer and hunter must be heard. It, too, is a lot of work like the shooting and searching, plucking and gutting. Your work is not just the preparing of protein, but writing and sharing it. It is honorable and important work- living a “writable life”. Bravo.

  26. Jack

    It’s said in England that London children, when asked to draw a chicken, will draw an oven-ready one as seen in the supermarket.
    I don’t enjoy cleaning the pheasants and partidges which I shoot (although I have no problem with trout or salmon) but preparing them properly for eating is part of showing them due respect.
    Last September in Scotland our grouse shooting party was staying in a grand house, Dunachton. As we came off the moor our kilted host said that anyone who wanted grouse for dinner that evening had to pluck a bird there and then. And we did, a line of shooters with feathers blowing in the wind!

  27. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Since, as you point out, it’s unrealistic to expect all meat-eaters to butcher what they eat, even once, the contact those meat-eaters have with people like you is very important. It’s possible to understand the importance of knowing where our meat comes from in a second-hand way. Lots of people don’t have the immediate ability to raise or hunt their own meat, but they can do it vicariously by reading you and others who are doing it. That awareness is, I think, the first step toward revamping our meat production.

  28. Al Cambronne

    A lovely essay. Well reasoned, but also well said. And while I’m not one for name-calling, you’ve supplied a wonderful new shorthand for meat-eaters who hate hunting and believe all hunters are evil: “Cellophane People.”

  29. Steve

    Great article, Hank. Coincidentally, I bought my first whole domestic rabbit on Sunday and broke it down last night. A great experience, and I think it turned out pretty well (I followed your article). Will definitely do it again.

    One question – connected to some of the fat near the pelvis were two identical dark brown ovals. I’m assuming that these were the kidneys, but I wanted to confirm that before I tried your rabbit kidney recipe (the rest of the offal was wrapped in a bag).

  30. Lisa

    Great article. I have been eating vegan food for awhile and I like it. For me, it has to do with the whole “letting others do the dirty work”. Personally, I don’t think I could put a bullet between the eyes of a cow and enjoy its meat. So it’s very hypocritical for me to buy the cellophane wrapped meat at the supermarket. I do not judge hunters. If anything they are most connected to their food source and respect the life that was given for their food and in turn I can do nothing but respect that.

    Not all vegetarians/vegans are bleeding heart hippies! I promise 😉

  31. SusieQT

    That lady (and many more like her) would probably die of starvation if she suddenly lost the priviledge to shop at a supermarket. But since my husband is a butcher, those people keep a roof over our head and gas in our truck, so they can’t be all bad!

  32. John
  33. Ian

    Well scripted Hank – I see the C people all around me everyday eating meat? in the form of processed cuts of pork, chicken or turkey(the 3 big shed processed proteins ie animals that don’t ever see the sky, soil and pasture). I live on a farm and breed, grow and process my own beef,lamb,goat and chicken and also harvest wild game and fish. My mantra for farm life is that ‘the day is not over until something bleeds’ – quite often this is myself from many of the farm chores!
    dinner last night was beef sausage, beetroot,turnip,potato,peas- all from within my boundaries.

    Cheers and good eating


  34. Todd

    I get what you are saying and I think it’s great that you haven’t bought meat from a store since ’04, but calling it self sufficient is a bit of a misnomer. “Self-sufficiency is the state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction, for survival; it is therefore a type of personal or collective autonomy.” Now I suppose you could interpret the last phrase on a philosophical level and apply it to your “own” sense of self sufficiency, but that’s semantics. The first part of the definition is where it’s at for me.

    I think about all the gas, ammo, guiding, and other help we all receive in today’s world when out in the field attempting to kill and harvest wild game, and to call it self sufficiency is a stretch. What is the right word? I dunno. Maybe it’s late and I shouldn’t write this at all. Maybe I’m just cranky? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that burrito. I digress…

    And before everyone gets all hulabaloo, I’ve got a garden that supplies my wife and I with all the fruit and veggies in the summer, and 80% of my veggie in the winter. I’ve got chickens and ducks for egg production, and bees for honey as well. I hunt and have a freezer full of duck and pig at the moment. I get where you’re coming from Hank, but hunting and trapping will never sustain a person like it once did, and the calories and energy expelled in modern day hunting – even a person trying to be as efficient as they can – exceed what a hunter will reap and won’t be sustainable nor self-sufficient.

    So in the end, what is the right word for what you do? I don’t really know. You’re definitely following your own path, and have people interested in what you do, which I think is fantastic. But please, don’t call it self-sufficient. Only mountain-top hermits with a scythe and kung-fu powers beyond compare can lay claim to that one.


  35. Solange

    I cannot wait to have your knowledge and skills. I come from a family that ate frozen pizzas for dinner. Now as an adult I am gardening and raising chickens but there is still so much to learn to only be a quarter as good as you.

  36. Korolyn Pogue

    Hunting, fishing and processing your own meat makes you respect where it comes from. You are less apt to let it go bad in the fridge when you know that a life was given for this. Bravo for your remarks. My only problem with hunting is that it is not cheap in Washington. I fish a lot, clam etc. I try to buy the rest of my meat on the hoof, even though I do not process it, I understand where my meat comes from and respect what was given by the animal. I also know that the animal was treated with respect until it was butchered. It is hard to get other meat eaters to stop buying meat that was raised in feed lots. And that woman said you were disgusting.

  37. Nick

    beautiful piece and I couldn’t agree more with most of what was said.

    I have been an angler my entire life and also done my fair share of skinning and plucking. I have found the process of preparing my harvest to be one of the most honest and truthful ways of becoming closer to what you eat. With that said I have also found that it causes me to eat less meat and appreciate and respect it more when I do.

    I feel it needs to be said that if we all were to stock our fridge with a “small flock of ducks” and exist entirely off the land while eating meat almost everyday our forests and lakes would be empty.

    I truly envy your lifestyle but please don’t romanticize it too much Hank! The day hunting becomes “trendy” and we all take to the woods it might be disastrously unsustainable.

  38. Will

    I agree entirely Hank. Nicely worded.

    I didn’t grow up in a family that hunted, fished (for food), or foraged. My grandparents did farm and grew most of the produce they ate. I developed a love of the outdoors as a child and adolescent and it was that love that drew me toward hunting, fishing, and foraging. I have always had a love of farming.

    That said, we don’t live on a farm, or on a homestead. We live in a neighborhood in a small town with a smallish backyard with parking off the alley…

    I usually manage to kill two or three deer a year, process them myself, and put them in the freezer. We also can some of the meat. We use nearly everything. We have friends who raise hogs and I help slaughter and process hogs the same weekend in December every year. We buy half a hog and put it in the freezer ourselves. We make our own sausage.

    I usually put some squirrels and rabbits in the freezer during the season as well, and once bought a live turkey and chicken to self-process for our Thanksgiving meal. That was a fantastic meal!

    We fish a good bit during the summer and we eat what we catch. We have put fish into jars. We grow a lot of the vegetables we eat. We can and freeze the harvest for the winter.

    We do this because we believe it is important to be connected to the food we eat, and we consciously resist what we believe is a vanishing culture of self reliance.

    It does take a lot of time, time we could spend doing other things. I would not trade the invested harvesting and growing our food, for neatly package cuts of meat and individually shrink wrapped cucumbers.

  39. Stella

    Nice read. Nice to see all the agreeable responses.
    When I spend my time to hunt it, quarter it, de-bone it, wrap it, freeze it and THEN cook it…I have respect for my food and the life that it was.
    It changes everything.

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