Imagine a dinner that includes nettle ravioli, huckleberry grilled doves, venison tacos, seaweed salad, and acorn flatbread, finished off with wintergreen ice cream. Although it sounds like something straight out of A Game of Thrones, it is not. This is the kind of food that Hank Shaw cooks and eats on a regular basis – not in Winterfell, but northern California.
A former political journalist and one-time restaurant line cook, Shaw now spends his days “thinking about new ways to cook and eat anything that walks, flies, swims, crawls, skitters, jumps – or grows.” He calls himself “the omnivore who has solved his dilemma.” He has managed to do this by choosing an extraordinary culinary path that differs greatly from the usual vegetarianism or ethically-raised-meats-only standards upheld by conscientious eaters. Instead Shaw hunts, fishes, and forages for almost everything he eats, which gives him control of and total responsibility for his own food.
His efforts have been highly successful. There is fresh wild game in his fridge nearly every week and he has bought meat only a handful of times since 2004. His fascinating blog, which is called “Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook,” is full of thoughtful, compelling essays and delicious-sounding recipes for obscure ingredients. It won the 2013 Best Individual Food Blog award from the James Beard Foundation. Shaw has also published two cookbooks: “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” and “Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated.”
The act of killing animals for human consumption is highly contentious, and will likely upset many TreeHugger readers, but it’s hard to argue with the stand Shaw takes against the “Cellophane People” – those omnivores who make up the majority of North America’s population and prefer to buy their meat factory-farmed and packaged with Styrofoam and cellophane at the supermarket. In a fascinating essay called “The Imperative of Protein,” he writes:
“Having others do the dirty work of processing meat also divorces people from the reality of where their protein comes from – and, most disturbingly, engenders a sentiment that those of us who face that reality are barbarians, Neanderthals who revel in the blood crusted under our fingernails.”
Whether you eat animals or not, Shaw offers an important reminder that much of the natural world out there is edible, once you learn how and where to look. Americans choose to eat less than .25 percent of the known edible food on this planet (Eating Animals, Jonathan Safron Foer), which is ridiculous when you consider the growing concerns about genetic modification, pesticide use, and seasonality, not to mention the burgeoning global human population. He also insists on respect for animals, and understanding that “meat should be special [and] has been for most of human existence.”
We would all do well to start supplementing our diets with ingredients from our own backyards, and Shaw’s blog is a wonderful place to start learning how to expand beyond our culinary comfort zones.