In Steve Rinella’s latest composition Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter, he admits to setting up chipmunk traps in his Fort Greene backyard. Traps designed to kill chipmunks. Chipmunks he and his family will then consume.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “Say wha???” And I’m like, “Yes, this is what I’m telling you. New York City chipmunks for dinner.”
Shock, repulsion, perspiration—all perfectly reasonable reactions to have! Right? Well Rinella makes you question just that in his autobiographical book about his life as a hunter.
Readers with a morally indifferent attitude towards hunting, hoping to gain insight on the sport, will certainly be pleased. Yet what’s more, the host of MeatEater on The Sportsman Channel actually succeeds in humanizing an act that is often regarded as inhumane. Now, I’m not saying that my sympathy for Rinella ever surpasses that of his prey, but through captivating prose chronicling personal anecdotes and milestones in his hunting life and career, Rinella depicts hunting as an all-consuming sport unfit for anyone short of resilient.
A lifetime ensconced in hunting has clearly cultivated an expertise in the art of the hunting story. Through visceral illustrations, Rinella conveys the irresistible, almost seductive sensations that hunting induces in the hunter, sensations that particularly appeal to certain personality types. A thrill-seeker, for instance, would surely be temped by the feeling of imminent, yet unknown peril that weighs on the hunter. So, too, would an obsessive-compulsive personality type be enticed by taking full charge the food she or he consumes. Putting it in a historical context, Rinella makes hunting even harder to deride. In addition to hunting’s practical, survival purposes, it also established some pivotal traditions and a sense of “cultural continuity.”
For Rinella, hunting gives him a semblance of freedom, of a life devoid of law and interference. Killing an animal is not about a quick nip in the butt, even if it is for a long-awaited meal. Through extensive studying prior to killing, he determines the most efficient and swift way of killing the animal at hand. Yet far more gratifying is the “intimacy” that develops between him and his prey, eventually giving way to “love and respect.”
It’s strange; for a guy who takes such pleasure in that “beautiful glimpse of life” bestowed upon you “in that moment of impending violence and death,” he is oddly rigid in adhering to hunting regulations. For instance, while Rinella admits to occasionally shooting a squirrel out of season, he vows to never “ever kill a duck out of season,” as ducks are in much greater danger of becoming extinct. For someone who salivates over the thought of a broiled deer heart, he seems more emotionally in tune with nature than anyone I know. Referring to a buck, Rinella recalls, “It wasn’t so much that I saw him as felt him.”
Linking each chapter is a 3-4 page cooking how-to for specific animals. Outlining the correct way to eat a beaver tail (thinly sliced like prosciutto, rather than chowing down on it like a corndog), Rinella makes this whole hunting thing seem like less of a theory and more a feasible practice. (Little factoid: apparently, gamey meat is more palatable because it’s “wild and free rangey”—who knew?!) However, these brief cooking lessons also highlight the book’s absurdity that is impossible to ignore.
Among the many ridiculous, almost humorous, images burned into the reader’s memory is Rinella gutting a “grouse and stuff[ing] it into the water bottle pocket on the side of his backpack,” picturing him even attempting to eat a porcupine, imagining him using “a turkey call to mimic the soft clucks of a hen,” and the photograph of his newborn son being fed his “first piece of game.”
Only an overzealous hunter would claim that, “To abhor hunting is to hate the place from which you came, which is akin to hating yourself in some distant, abstract way.” Rinella’s passion for the sport has reached a magnitude that most people can only dream of entertaining.
It’s interesting to note that Rinella’s vocation is eerily in line with today’s hottest Brooklyn trends. Rinella attests, “It’s the most extreme version of do-it-yourself, locavore, whatever.” Brooklynites, if the image of a chipmunk skewer is at all troubling to you, you might want to think twice next time about what you wish for.