Hunting: Do we really need to eat so much meat?

A gift of a game animal can help prople understand what we do

A gift of a game animal can help prople understand what we do - Credit: Archant

Hunting is the most compassionate, humane and environmentally sensitive way to source animal protein

The countryside is a larder full of healthy food

The countryside is a larder full of healthy food - Credit: Archant

On a day-trip to a recent game fair I was struck by the vibrant sense of community, camaraderie and purpose that’s such a defining feature of the shooting world. To see thousands of people joining together to celebrate, learn and enjoy the crafts of the countryside made me feel proud that despite the slow spread of our cities, there is still a thriving rural and distinctly, British ethos on this island. Across the UK, the countryside lies at the heart of our collective culture and it’s very much alive and well.

That said, the values of the shooting community are still very much misunderstood by society at large and there’s a sense of disconnection between town and country people. This causes problems on both sides of the fence. Shooting folk can often be defensive about what they do, and non-shooters, who are often fed emotionally charged misinformaton by the media, can be understandably indignant and aggressive. There is suspicion on both sides and perhaps this is due to a simple lack of experience and understanding. ‘Townies’ are often seen either as deluded, tree hugging liberals, or members of the dark industrial masses. In turn, those in the country are seen as old-fashioned bumpkins whose values are completely out of touch with reality. Airgunners are in the perfect position to bridge this divide.

It's a shame the city and the countryside are so seperate

It's a shame the city and the countryside are so seperate - Credit: Archant

Come together

There’s some truth in the above preconceptions, but perhaps most of our problems are founded upon simple ignorance.We’re all human, whether we’re brown, black, green or white, Liberal, Conservative or Labour. I believe that if we can speak openly about shooting, without becoming emotional, then we can help to connect the spaces that have grown between us. A calm and rational sharing of values, a warm invitation to shoot or a gift of dressed game can be all that’s needed to help to change the perception of shooting.

How many of us keep quiet about what we do in the company of our work colleagues for fear of being misunderstood, lynched or branded a gun-toting maniac? It’s a challenge to be open when the distance seems so large, but I’m trying, and in preparation for future conversations, I’ve been mulling over my motivations for hunting, shooting, and eating the things I do. Perhaps you’ll agree with me and perhaps you won’t, but in my defence, my views are rigorously researched and I’m always willing to be proven wrong.

I believe that we should share our skills

I believe that we should share our skills - Credit: Archant

Connection with nature

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For many of us, the primary motivation in taking a rifle into the woods stems from a love of the natural world and a desire to connect with it both as a guardian and a servant. There’s so much that nature can teach us and every outing contains a new lesson. I’m constantly humbled by my own ignorance and dismayed at the cluelessness of those who play loud music, leave litter and shout in serene and beautiful places. I wonder if these people behave this way because nobody has shown them any better. In my work as a teacher I often meet city children who’ve never seen a field or a cow except on television. This is something that we can change through education. All of us have a duty to share what we do with those who would never normally have the chance.

There much more to shooting than just a rifle

There much more to shooting than just a rifle - Credit: Archant

The death

At its best, hunting is the most compassionate, humane and environmentally sensitive way to source animal protein. The animals we kill, live wild and free and very often have no idea that we’re there, dying instantly with a precise shot to the brain. This clinical dispatch is far cleaner than could be expected from an animal predator and where pain cannot be avoided it is minimised. In either case, the lead from the hunter’s rifle is merciful in comparison to death from disease, predation or starvation. Wild animals rarely die of old age.

It should be remembered that even the best grass-fed, free-ranging cow must still be loaded onto a truck and driven to the abattoir. It will wait in line, fully aware of its impending demise from the scents and sounds of slaughter. Many consumers do not like to confront the reality of this part of the food chain. It’s uncomfortable and we ignore it, preferring only to see neatly wrapped, bloodless packages, sporting images of happy cows in verdant fields. This is understandable, but I wonder if hunters have chosen the more conscious path.

Livestock farming is bunk

In the scientific community, it’s now widely accepted that in the long term, meat and dairy farming is not environmentally sustainable at current levels. We must find more efficient solutions to the problem of world hunger. If we ate much less meat and chose to eat wild when we did, our carbon footprint would plummet.

The facts below are taken from the (UN, National Geographic and the Water Footprint Network):

? There are around 1.3 billion cattle on the planet.

? 24% of the world’s land mass is given over to grazing cattle.

? UN sources state that animal agriculture is responsible for about 19% of green house emissions (more than all methods of transport combined).

? One acre of good pasture can produce upwards of 50,000lbs of potatoes but only 140lbs of beef.

? It takes 119 gallons of water to grow a pound of potatoes. It takes 1,799 gallons to grow the same amount of beef.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations (FAO), Wageningen University and Research Centre and National Geographic (with many others) all agree that at current rates of felling, the virgin Amazonian rainforests will be depleted within 100 years, and conservative estimates suggest that the creation of pasture is responsible for 75% of deforestation globally. We need to turn pasture back into more biodiverse habitat, eat less farmed meat and a lot more venison and squirrel.

Livestock farming is based upon the idea of dominion; that animals have been placed on this earth to serve us and to provide us with food. I disagree with this. We’re all a part of the global ecosystem and perhaps we should try to eat more of what we need, and less of what we want?

Wild meat is healthier

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) states that there is now a clear link between bowel cancer and the consumption of processed meats like sausages, bacon and salami. This meat often contains sulphites, salts and other preservatives and is high in saturated fat. The IARC are now certain that a regular diet featuring this kind of meat is directly responsible for 21% of bowel cancers globally. Wild game is far safer. We’ve evolved to eat wild meat in moderation and seasonally, so it’s no great surprise that eating two rashers of salted bacon and a sausage every day are going to be bad for our long-term prospects.

For mind, body and soul

The current academic thinking is that humans have been on this planet for around 200,000 years. For around 5% of our existence we’ve been farmers or rather, for 95% of our history we’ve been hunters; unified through necessity with the living, breathing ecosystems that we relied upon for sustenance. How many people today know exactly where their food comes from and the journey it’s taken to arrive at the table? How many people are aware of the human and environmental costs of importing food from abroad or even from across the country? The only lamb I can buy locally (if I buy any) is from New Zealand. This is surely madness?

Hunting has so many benefits. It promotes physical health and an improved diet and it allows people to connect with the land. Hunting brings families and communities together in the name of food and it reminds us that there’s more to life – and death – than any television show, film or computer game could ever teach us. As hunters and outdoorsmen, we’re connecting to a value system and way of life more ancient than any nation.

Our duty?

We’re all responsible for the planet and how shooting is perceived. If, when faced by ignorance and narrow-mindedness, we can be warm, courteous and calm, then we’ll be doing the planet a great favour. By inviting unlikely people into the world of shooting we’ll be reconnecting them to the countryside and playing a small but vital part in the creation of a greener, healthier and more integrated society. The modern world is an urban one and the wild places are fading, perhaps to black. Be we tribesmen, ecologists, wildlife photographers or hunters, we must band together as guardians of the remaining wilderness and remember that if we can’t protect them, who can? Best of luck in the field. Charlie.