I just finished reading Tovar Cerulli’s The Mindful Carnivore. To be blunt, I wish that he hadn’t written it. It isn’t that I didn’t find the topics enjoyable; I did. It isn’t that he isn’t a good writer; he’s good. The reason I wish that Cerulli hadn’t written his book is because I wanted to write his book. And it’s almost as if I did.
The Mindful Carnivore is about Cerulli’s journey from non-critical food consumption in his youth, to mindful vegetarianism, to strict veganism, to conscientious carnivory, and ultimately to hunting. As readers might recall, his journey very closely mirrors my own. Cerulli’s book is a narration of his transition through these phases, punctuated with historical reflections and stories from his youth. It’s well laid out, with important philosophical points interlaced with personal reflection. Aside from Cerulli’s tendency to spend — in my opinion — a bit too much time on historical details, and aside from his penchant for flowery language, I like the book. A lot.
In his book, Cerulli highlights a few important points that led him (and me) to move from veganism progressively into hunting. First came his recognition that veganism isn’t exactly all that it’s cracked up to be… at least it’s not, in actuality, what I conceived of it to be in theory. Vegans kill animals all the time. They just outsource the killing, or do it indirectly through the economic incentives provided by their consumption. If a person consumes food produced by the modern agricultural system, even just veggies, they’ve got blood on their hands. Perhaps it’s due to the animals that died when wild lands were put under cultivation, or perhaps it’s due to the continual killing — often by poison — of animals that feed on crops. Either way death is an unavoidable agricultural reality. Cerulli highlights this fact nicely in his chapter “Man the Gardener.”
Second, in a similar fashion to my own experience, came Cerulli’s craving for animal protein. He didn’t crave the taste; he craved the nutrients such protein contained. Like me, he was seemingly eating a well-rounded vegan diet. Like me, it left his body physically degraded. Cerulli medically confirmed his feelings with blood tests; I self-diagnosed my issue when presented with the same physical symptoms of general fatigue.
As Cerulli moved from veganism into more selective meat-eating, he met a third issue that finally drove him to take up hunting. It’s yet again one of the same issues that I fretted about. Even if a I choose to eat ethically raised farm animals, there will always be separation between me and their death — unless I raise them myself, which requires space I do not have. Hunting is the primary way to make sure that an animals’ death and later meat care is in my hands, and my hands only.
Just as Cerulli’s philosophical wranglings bear much resemblance to my own, he faced many of the same obstacles in his attempts to become a successful hunter. First, there was concern about the stereotypical ‘hunting culture’. What would it mean to call himself a hunter? Would he be judged negatively by his friends? His neighbors? What about all the beliefs and ideology that hunters stereotypically espouse? How would he ‘fit in’? These identity concerns are definitely something we hope to discuss with Modern Hunters.
A second and very common concern was related to guns. Would it be safe to own them? What does it mean to be a ‘gun owner’? Guns are implements of death, too often of fellow humans. Cerulli struggled with these issues, as did we. Unfortunately, though there are many resources out there for gun lovers, there are precious few tailored to prospective hunters. We aim to change that. Guns can be scary, and thinking about owning them even scarier.
A third hurdle relates to hunting itself — especially for very conscientious hunters: what if I wound an animal? This was and still is a great concern of mine, a concern that I spend many hours practicing at the archery range to try to reduce. We will cover this topic more in a future post.
A final hurdle Cerulli faced was his own patience. While he didn’t explicitly frame it this way in his book, the frustration and dejection he reports as a result of three failed seasons of deer hunting posed perhaps the greatest challenge to him becoming a successful hunter. I highlight this because I too have found hunting frustrating at times. There have been day trips, weekend trips, and even full seasons (!) where I have not seen a single animal of the species I was pursuing. And I knew it wasn’t that they weren’t out there. It was that I lacked the skill to find them. I’m not one who likes to do poorly at tasks due to my own incompetence. From reading his book, it is clear that Cerulli feels similarly. Failure at hunting challenges the positive self-image of the ‘achiever’ type.
Yet, even mentioning this hurdle requires forthrightness, for which I applaud him. There are probably a lot of hunters who quit hunting because they weren’t able to succeed, due to the fact that they lacked skills. There are likely many more prospective hunters that never tried hunting because of their fear of failure or feelings of skill-related inadequacy. Frankly, people like to do things that they are good at. Newbie hunters aren’t likely going to be good at hunting right away, especially without the aid of another more experienced hunter. I could have certainly benefited from a site like Modern Hunters as I was learning to hunt. Cerulli’s book suggests that he could have benefited similarly.
So, if you like what we’re trying to do here on this site, I think you’ll really like The Mindful Carnivore. I highly recommend giving it a read.
Finally, in parting I’ll embed a video that Cerulli mentions in his book. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite hunting clips, due to its pure rawness. It depicts a group of Kalahari tribesmen in Namibia on a persistence hunt — where they chase a large Kudu to its demise. Check it out: