Steven Rinella – “Meat Eater”

MEATEATER_coverThere was a time not so long ago, Steven Rinella points out, that “there was no hiding from the fact that we have to kill to eat.”

Today, Rinella adds, “we’ve devised all sorts of clever mechanisms that enable us to avoid this reality. I’m thinking of grocery stores, restaurants, that sort of thing.”

In “Meat Eater,” Rinella takes us through a lifetime of hunting, from small game to big mammals and contemplates how, at least in 21st Century America, we have lost touch with our connection to the process that puts protein on our plate.

“We’ve probably entered a period that will one day be regarded as the autumn of hunting,” he writes. “However, you should not consider this book to be an act of submission. It is not a tearful farewell. Rather, I think of hunting—and of writing about it—as a form of resistance. It’s an insurgency, an act of guerilla warfare against the inevitable advance of time.”

It was Rinella’s father who passed along the hunting gene.  “My dad was tough and he knew how to take care of himself, no matter what happened, and I was his student. I learned to fish by the age of three and I was hunting small game by the age of seven. It was early enough that I have no recollection of the first fish that I caught or the first squirrels and rabbits that I harvested.”

So “Meat Eater” provides a chronicle of Rinella’s hunting life—and each chapter focuses on a different prey and location, from the Missouri Breaks to Alaska, and between-chapter interludes provide “tasting notes” to help make your harvest more palatable.

Not only is Rinella a gritty hunter, he is a powerful writer and that makes “Meat Eater” a smooth read.  Muskrat, we learn, exhale as they swim under water and the ice “collects the bubbles in a tell-tale line that marks perfectly their line of travel.”  Bears that have been foraging on blueberries, have fat with a “purplish tint” and “it’s so good you can melt it and spread it on toast like butter.”

In Alaska hunting Dall sheep, Rinella gets into a precarious situation on a cliff. “It seems counterintuitive, but you get into trouble in the mountains by climbing things you can’t get down rather than going down things you can’t get up.”

Rinella doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the degree of difficulty hunting, but the woes of a hunter are seen as just a fact of life, not a badge of honor. It’s readily apparent that even the most experienced hunters can encounter plenty of trouble in the wild and, sometimes, come home empty-handed.  Rinella is self-effacing, earnest and, in spots, very funny.

Vegetarians, of course, will not read this book (unless they are looking for further reinforcement for their reason for not eating animals).  But all others might enjoy a writer who can make you feel like you’ve picked up a scent and closes the gap between food source and nourishment.

Writes Rinella: “I’ve learned to see the earth as a thing that breathes and writhes and brings forth life. I see these revelations as a form of grace and art, as beautiful as the things we human attempt to capture through music, dance, and poetry. And as I’ve become aware of this, it has become increasingly difficult for me to see hunting as altogether outside of civilization.”

(I also highly recommend Rinella’s “American Buffalo, In Search of  lost Icon.” )

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