So you want to eat meat, eh? There's a dilemma.

Ever since the release of Michael Pollan's seminal book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," more people all over the world have been trying to decide if their lives could use more locally harvested food — including meat.

The existing meat production pipeline is flawed. Pollan and many others — like Eric Schlosser (of "Fast Food Nation" fame) and the documentary "Samsara" — have showed us just how bad it really is. Some folks go vegan or vegetarian, but others have tried to figure out ways to get locally raised animals.


Image of Michael Pollan by Sage Ross/Wikimedia.

“Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do."
— Michael Pollan, "The Omnivore's Dilemma"

Can you eat meat ethically?

What is there to do if you would prefer meat to be a source of protein in your diet but want to have it in an ethical and eco-friendly way?

The answer might be in your backyard. Literally.

If you live in an area that has access to wild game, you may want to consider hunting. Seriously! Many people have turned to personally hunting their meat, and the vast majority of those who are passionate about it harvest game in ways that are safe, clean, and quick.

Ask yourself: Is that more or less ethical than, for example, a cow grown while standing on piles of manure, force-fed antibiotics, and unable to turn around or even move? Or a chicken with its beak cut off, unable to move in its cage or do anything except eat and … well, you know. How about what happens when animals reach the "killing floor" where they're executed en masse and "disassembled" before they make it to the local "Mall*Wart" in your city?

If you do it yourself, it can get you closer to your food supply and in touch with its life cycle.

Even though I've hunted since I was a kid, "Omnivore's Dilemma" got me even more interested in putting wild game into my freezer and onto our table. Knowing a lot more about your food sources is key to understanding why it matters so much to your health and happiness. And, prepared right, wild game is absolutely delicious.

Also, I still thank every animal I take for giving food and sustenance to my family.

Replacing things like factory-farmed cows and chickens with wild game is possible.

You can also look into organic/grass-fed animals on local farms, but that can get pricey. We've done it to the tune of $900 for a half cow, and you must have a deep freeze on hand to store it.

But small-game hunting can be cost-effective and good exercise, and it's not a big lift when it comes to cleaning and cooking.

Some people use a bow and arrow, a small-caliber rifle like a .22, or even a simple single-shot shotgun available for $100. For that matter, there are many people who like to hunt with birds of prey — trained falcons, hawks, and more.

Whatever method you use, once you've got your license, it's time to get out there!

What are some good options to hunt?

Let's go through some varieties of game that can usually be found in open areas around the United States.

1. Rabbits

Cottontails, hares, and jackrabbits all provide a great meal when you harvest them humanely and ethically. Rabbit season starts in September or October in most parts of the country. The taste? A lot like chicken, but a little stronger flavor. You can really make it tasty with a good ol' hasenpfeffer recipe (or as Bugs Bunny would call it ... rabbit stew).


Thumper ... I mean, the cottontail rabbit. Image by Jon Sullivan/Wikimedia.

2. Squirrels

Bushy tail (fox) squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, and prairie dogs are all in the same scientific family. As opposed to hoofing it through the woods and grasslands for rabbits, squirrel hunting is more for people who like to sit for a while. The taste is also kinda like chicken, but a lot greasier. Think dark meat.

The common fox squirrel. Photo by Brandon Weber/Upworthy.

3. Upland birds

Pheasant, quail, grouse, Hungarian partridge, and other species are actively eating and preparing for the winter months late in the year, starting around September. Definitely a way to burn some calories because hunting them requires hikes through woods, grasslands, and farm fields, where you can see them flush, often with a great flourish of color.

As you might have guessed, the taste is very much like chicken!


The ring-necked pheasant. Image by USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr.

Bonus: Here's a pheasant recipe I created years ago, but it'll work with pretty much any small game.

4. Waterfowl

Waterfowl include geese, ducks, and other birds that stay close to water. At 12 to 15 pounds per bird for an adult goose, they can easily feed a family. It's very much a dark meat; in fact, goose breasts look as dark as steaks before and after you cook them. The taste is very much like duck, rather than turkey. All are fabulous, on the grill or slow-cooked in the oven or pressure cooker.


"Honkers," as they're sometimes called. If you've ever been close to a flock, you know why. Image by Alan Wilson/Wikipedia.

5. Deer, elk, and other cervids

This is definitely deep-end-of-the-pool hunting — not small game. And it takes a deeper relationship with the local population to really make it ethical.

"The Three Kings." Image by Brandon Weber/Upworthy.

A word on "trophy" animals (i.e., those with a lot of antlers) versus those intended for food and culinary delights: Though the picture I took here is of bucks, I take the female variety ("does") too. There's a reason why.

If the herd gets out of balance from too many does, then bucks can die from food scarcity in the winter months. Read: They starve.

I've been regaled with many a tale of winters being so harsh in parts of the country that deer eat tree bark and pine needles to survive. That's not good, and they suffer, so it's far better to harvest enough of them each year so that the herd is strong.

"Hiya, human!" Photo of bull elk in Rocky Mountain National Park by Brandon Weber/Upworthy.

In the mountain states, elk and other cervids (ruminant mammals that are members of the Cervidae family) are also frequently harvested. These will supply hundreds of pounds of venison at a time.

I'm a bow hunter myself, and it takes tons of patience, practice, skill, and the ability to sit quietly for hours on end. My 7-year-old wants to go deer hunting in a few years, but I've already warned him that he cannot talk for hours at a time — a feat I do not think it's humanly possible for him to accomplish.

The taste is like beef, with much less fat. Cooking venison is a skill unto itself, and you frequently will have to cut the cooking time in half versus beef, or it will be very dry. They're much like grass-fed beef in that regard. The varying types of cervids produce subtle taste differences. I am fond of whitetail deer and elk, but some folks love caribou and antelope, too.

Bonus: If you want to go full-on mountain person, you can learn how to make a coat or blanket from the hides, as well as other fancy things from other parts. Double bonus: If you have dogs, venison bones are great for them to chew on. (Just be sure to do it safely!)

6. Wild turkey

No, not THAT Wild Turkey...

This is another "sit and wait" creature to hunt, and they have extremely acute eyesight and hearing, so they're not easy. But taste one — even if you've had "free-range" turkey before — and you might just be hooked.

"Hi Tom. Have you met ... Tom?" Photo by Brandon Weber/Upworthy.

7. Wild boar/pig

I've not yet had the experience of hunting these, but (SPOILER ALERT!) it is the critter that Pollan ends up harvesting at the end of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," along with local mushrooms and vegetables. In some parts of the country — especially the South — they are frequently harvested year-round. The taste is definitely pork, with older animals having a "musky" flavor.


"Oink? Not quite, Bub." Image of wild boars near Kennedy Space Center by NASA/Wikimedia.

Bonus!

For the pescatarians out there, catching and cooking your own fish can be magical. You only need access to waterways, ponds, or lakes, and a simple cane pole with a hook and night crawler will do. The kids will love it, and cooking fresh catfish or trout over a campfire is a great experience.

The species "Cerveza Metallica," with the author's buddy Dave. Photo by Brandon Weber/Upworthy.

There are, of course, tons of other critters in pockets of the country that can also be harvested as well, like alligators, goats, crabs, lobsters, bears, and more.

Hey, it beats store-bought, right? Check with local ethical hunters to see what might be available to you!

What if the whole idea of hunting game yourself is still not for you? That's fair.

Here's an idea: Why not trade with someone for locally sourced meat?

If you don't want to go through with hunting and taking your own animals, you could arrange a trade with someone you know. "Hey, Jane, I'll prepare the bread from locally raised grain and roast some locally-grown vegetables if you can harvest the venison steaks. Deal?"

Or even get together with friends and family who hunt and make it a feast!

Bon appétit!

Also, for a little taste of what "The Omnivore's Dilemma" is all about, check this video out:

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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