Thursday, December 25, 2008

Steven Rinella

Steven Rinella is the author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine and a correspondent for Outside magazine. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, American Heritage, The New York Times, Field and Stream, Men's Journal, and

His new book is American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.

From a Q & A with the Sierra Club:

1. Where did your hunting/fishing/food philosophy come from? Who taught you?

My dad taught me to hunt and fish, but I can't really say that my philosophy came from him. He had me when he was over 50 years old, and he was raised during the Depression by his grandmother. He scrounged chunks of coal that fell off trains by the railyard; one time he got picked up by the cops for stealing rags and selling them to a scrap dealer. When the yellow perch were in shallow water he'd camp on the piers and sell perch.

We weren't poor like that when I was a kid, but my dad still had that impulse to get as much as game as possible whenever and however it happened. I did a lot of illegal things as a little kid with no idea whatsoever that I was breaking laws. Running seines over bluegill beds, spearfishing in freshwater, catching snapping turtles out of season, potting squirrels out of season. I don't resent my dad for being the way he was, but I had to figure out conservation ethics on my own, and it took longer than if I had a more informed mentor.

2. What do you think is different between your father's outdoor experiences and your own? What has changed?

My answer to #1 spilled over into this arena.... but I think a lot has changed over the last two generations. (I consider my father and me to be separated by a "missing" generation, since he was the age of my friend's grandfathers). Some of the changes are good, some are bad.

Hunters used to be more focused on food; in general, they had a much more sincere appreciation for the good meat that you can get through hunting and fishing. A lot of hunters nowadays are like spoiled brats in that way. They want horns and trophies, but the value of the food is lost on them. I think that's why we see this ongoing trend of making venison jerky and "snacky sticks." People are afraid of the meat, or feel inconvenienced by it, and the tendency is to add a bunch of sugar and turn it into candy that you pass around at work. Something about the beautiful value of creating meals for one's family is missing within that paradigm. The good changes have to do with conservation.

We're much more aware of what it takes to have stable populations of wildlife now. I think of salmon management in Alaska. We now know that it's possible to have too many salmon return to a river during the spawning season; if you limit the returning fish, you get a better recruitment of healthier individuals heading into the ocean. That level of knowledge allows us to be adept conservationists, and I believe that most hunters and fishermen have a greater respect for the written law than they used to. Maybe not ethical law, but written law....
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.