There is this tender, human, nine-minute documentary titled "When a Vegetarian Marries a Cattle Rancher" running at theatlantic.com (a publication that leans left) that gets refreshingly close to an answer—a real answer—to what hunting does for us and the environment. Vegans have expressed their hatred for hunters and have spit their moral vanity at meat eaters for decades now, and have even thrown red dye on people in fur coats, but now their thought leaders are beginning to look around, to ask what is really ethical.
Some are even beginning to understand that even a vegan can’t stand apart from reality; after all, every farmer has to deal with the insects, mice, geese, deer and more that feed on their crops. If they don’t, they’ll only be raising crops for wildlife. Or worse, a farmer who is prevented from controlling deer or other wildlife populations with hunting (a practice through which farmers and landowners often raise money) then they only will see wildlife as pests, and so might run their brush hogs through hedgerows and cut down woodlots and more to reduce wildlife populations by removing habitat.
Keri Brandt says she was once a “strident vegetarian” who saw things very simply from her urban vantage. She thought eating meat was wrong and her thinking stopped there. But then, she says, she found herself driving across town to go on a date with a cattle rancher. She wondered why she was doing such a thing, but she did it regardless and she fell in love with and ended up marrying the rancher. This, she says, “complicated her relationship with eating animals.” She says she added meat to her diet and “began to examine her black-and-white view.”
Brandt says, “I lost some friends in marrying David. I had some friends who were vegan, and it was really hard for them to understand that I could fall in love with a cattle rancher.”
She found that our relationship with what we eat, and therefore with the natural world, is not as simple as she thought it was when she was a vegetarian who simply bought her food at stores. She now says, “It’s hard to eat without doing harm …. I began to understand the complexity more once I started living [on a cattle ranch]. There is a lot of harm being caused by our plant crops, too.” So, she asks, “How can we eat with less harm?”
She found that cattle ranchers—and I would add, hunters—have been mischaracterized as “gruff, mean men that don’t care about their animals.” She says, “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. … You can go to the grocery store and kind of dissociate. … Ranchers are doing all the grappling around the ethics of these things.”
So Brandt and her husband have been trying to finish their cows on grass, rather than in the feedlots, as they search for what they think is the most humane way to raise beef. She says she has found that our role in the environment is much more “complex” than she ever imagined before she married a cattle rancher.
This is something hunters know. As people like Brandt begin to understand ranchers don’t hate their cattle and hunters don’t hate deer, elk or whatever they hunt—but rather that ranchers and hunters revere, even love, what they raise and hunt—they’ll begin to drop their biases and moral vanity and to see something that’s important for society to understand: There are ethical ways to raise meat and to hunt and banning these things causes all sorts of problems for us and the environment. Actually, finding the ethical ground here is critical to living responsibly, even in harmony, within the ecosystems we call home.
To find this balance, wildlife biologists set hunting seasons and hunters go into the wild to kill cleanly and ethically. Hunters want to harvest a certain percentage of a given population to reduce crop losses, deer-vehicle collisions and, of course, to bring back good, clean meat for their tables. If they also want a trophy, that’s fine, too. All these things are complex but interrelated.
If people like Keri Brandt keep going down this philosophical path to real environmental enlightenment, they’ll next see hunters as the nature lovers we are. And they’ll understand what Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset meant when he wrote: “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.”