One day, Lily Raff McCaulou decided to leave New York City to move to the other side of the country – rural Oregon. In this wild region, the young woman found a job in the local newspaper, where she kept meeting hunters. The respect they showed towards nature and animals shook her urban environmental ideals.
McCaulou would herself eventually start hunting, and has written about this personal journey in a book titled “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner.”
This forthright memoir quickly found a wide audience -- Americans are so fond of initiation journeys. Lily Raff McCaulou describes her growing respect for her new fellow hunters. Still, hunters are killers, right? "They are truly invested in protecting their surroundings. In a sense, I see them as true environmentalists. I was impressed and I wanted to be like them," she writes in an email. In the book, she also describes her first years as a predator, as well as her friends' and family’s incomprehension when they found out about her new hobby. What kind of outdated values was she suddenly championing? And of course, she writes about how she killed her first game: a pronghorn.
“Call of the Mild” has plenty of rivals. The New York Times recently reviewed a series of books on the same topic, though not all equally sucessful. “Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat,” by chef Georgia Pellegrini, is too egocentric: "In Roman mythology, the master of the hunt was the goddess Diana. I like to think that Diana’s influence has never entirely waned," she writes. She then praises herself for being able to “shoot a deer through the heart without batting an eye, and then promptly take out the innards on the forest floor with only a pocketknife and my bare hands.”
“Mindful Carnivore” is more interesting: its author, Trover Cerulli - who also wrote a thesis on meat and its various meanings - explains how he went from being a herbivore to a carnivore thanks to game hunting.
Urban Americans made fun of Sarah Palin and her Caribou-head hunting trophies, but they weren’t laughing when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged last year to only eat meat from animals he had hunted himself, and then promptly started with a buffalo.
Staring your protein in the face
The call of nature is growing. Or maybe it is just coming back. The myth of the pioneer is not that old and people are fascinated with the great wild as the success of TV shows such as Man vs Wild shows. Books bring a more nuanced approach to the pro vs anti-hunting debate, which had remained very polarized until now.
This debate is now linked to new eating and consuming trends. Writer Jonathan Safran Foer set the cat among the pigeons when he published “Eating Animals” two years ago, a brilliant pamphlet against industrial meat production. For the author of “Call of the Mild,” this new hunting craze "is just an extension of the locavorism local food movement. People want to know about the food they eat and where it comes from. If they eat meat, they want to be confronted with its most horrible aspect, death. And there is also a kind of self-curiosity: Will I able to kill? There is also a will to become more self-sufficient."
Now that she hunts, Lily Raff McCaulou says she eats less meat than before. "I still sometimes buy meat from the supermarket, but I'm very cautious regarding its origin. Hunting has opened my eyes and helped me understand that meat is life." She has also learnt to laugh at herself: "It is funny that people see it as a new thing while it is one of the oldest traditions."
Tovar Cerulli goes further: "I've realized that it is not all black and white. My life is linked to the deaths and lives of many animals, whether or not I see them, from my breakfast yoghurt to the animals killed to protect the fields."
These yuppies who only recently found out about the pleasure of hunting in the wild irritate many animal defense groups. "No matter how and why you hunt, you will always end up killing an animal," writes an Internet user disgusted by the success of these books. "We’ve gone back to the stone age," condemns the Wildtierschutz Schweiz Swiss Wildlife Association.
Rural communities in North America make fun of these yuppies who have just discovered the moon and want, as a newspaper wrote, "to stare their protein in the face.”
What’s new is that a growing number of women are now hunting. Lily Raff McCaulou even refers to hunting as a “final frontier of feminism."
What about Switzerland? The General Secretary of hunting group Chasse Suisse (Hunting Switzerland), Marco Giacometti, explains that: "In some Swiss counties, the number of female hunters is rising. I think that one of their motivations is to build a closer and stronger relationship to nature."
Lily Raff McCalou says she is convinced she will keep on hunting for the rest of her life: "I even took part in this year's hunting season even though I just had a baby (the father is a die-hard fly fisherman) and I'm still breastfeeding. I really hope my son will follow my path. I see hunting as continuing education on the ecosystem. The idea of exploring new wilds together through hunting is very exciting."