“Revelatory . . . With every chapter, you get a history lesson, a hunting lesson, a nature lesson and a cooking lesson. . . . Meat Eater offers an overabundance to savor.”—The New York Times Book Review
Steven Rinella grew up in Twin Lake, Michigan, the son of a hunter who taught his three sons to love the natural world the way he did. As a child, Rinella devoured stories of the American wilderness, especially the exploits of his hero, Daniel Boone. He began fishing at the age of three and shot his first squirrel at eight and his first deer at thirteen. He chose the colleges he went to by their proximity to good hunting ground, and he experimented with living solely off wild meat. As an adult, he feeds his family from the food he hunts.
Meat Eater chronicles Rinella’s lifelong relationship with nature and hunting through the lens of ten hunts, beginning when he was an aspiring mountain man at age ten and ending as a thirty-seven-year-old Brooklyn father who hunts in the remotest corners of North America. He tells of having a struggling career as a fur trapper just as fur prices were falling; of a dalliance with catch-and-release steelhead fishing; of canoeing in the Missouri Breaks in search of mule deer just as the Missouri River was freezing up one November; and of hunting the elusive Dall sheep in the glaciated mountains of Alaska.
Through each story, Rinella grapples with themes such as the role of the hunter in shaping America, the vanishing frontier, the ethics of killing, the allure of hunting trophies, the responsibilities that human predators have to their prey, and the disappearance of the hunter himself as Americans lose their connection with the way their food finds its way to their tables. Hunting, he argues, is intimately connected with our humanity; assuming responsibility for acquiring the meat that we eat, rather than entrusting it to proxy executioners, processors, packagers, and distributors, is one of the most respectful and exhilarating things a meat eater can do.
A thrilling storyteller with boundless interesting facts and historical information about the land, the natural world, and the history of hunting, Rinella also includes after each chapter a section of “Tasting Notes” that draws from his thirty-plus years of eating and cooking wild game, both at home and over a campfire. In
Meat Eater he paints a loving portrait of a way of life that is part of who we are as humans and as Americans.
Praise for Meat Eater
“Full of empathy and intelligence . . . In some sections of the book, the author’s prose is so engrossing, so riveting, that it matches, punch for punch, the best sports writing.”—
The Wall Street Journal
“Steven Rinella is one of the best nature writers of the last decade. . . . This book was a page-turner.”—Tim Ferris
“Rinella’s writing is unerringly smart, direct, and sharply detailed.”—
The Boston Globe
“A unique and valuable alternate view of where our food comes from.”—Anthony Bourdain
“Truth be told, I have lived a life plenty comfortable with my disdain toward hunters and hunting. And then along comes Steven Rinella and his
Meat Eater to ruin everything. Unless you count the eternal pursuit of the unmetered parking space, I am not a hunter.
I am, however, on a constant quest for good writing. Meat Eater begins with a promise—''This book has a hell of a lot going for it, simply because it’s a hunting story''—and then delivers ceaselessly, like a Domino’s guy with O.C.D. This is survival of the most literate. Graphic, sure, but less so than an episode of ‘CSI,’ and with more believable emoting…this—
genuine passion, humbly conveyed—is when nonfiction slaughters fiction and hangs it over its mantel. The text is
relentlessly vivid and clear…the commitment, effort and ardor are unflinching. What Rinella does to prepare a muskrat trap when he’s in fifth grade takes five more steps and is infinitely more loving than whatever I did as a fifth grader to break in my baseball glove.
With every chapter, you get a history lesson, a hunting lesson, a nature lesson and a cooking lesson, and most of the chapters end with ''tasting notes'' on various game. … Readers will never ask themselves, ''What is he talking about?'' The only question they might have is, ''Why isn’t this guy the head of the N.R.A.?''…
[A]gain and again, his descriptive powers trump gruesomeness…. Meat Eater offers an overabundance to savor.”
—New York Times Book Review
“As Steven Rinella is quick to point out, the hunting story is the oldest sort of story there is. Humans developed language, it is commonly held, to tell them. When told properly, as they are in
Meat Eater, such stories are not simple gloats by the successful hunter around the table, proudly chewing on the biggest portion of meat and relishing the respect he has earned from his tribe by bringing back the protein. Rather, they are stories of man''s relationships with his fellow hunters, his family, the land and the animals. The stories in
Meat Eater are
full of empathy and intelligence….
In some sections of the book, the author''s prose is so engrossing, so riveting, that it matches, punch for punch, the best sports writing.
When Mr. Rinella wades into the surging Grand River, to throw a fly for steelheads, the story moves as well as Tom Callahan writing about Johnny Unitas in the 1958 championship or Bill Nack writing about Secretariat.”
—Wall Street Journal
Relentlessly descriptive and endlessly evocative ‘tasting guides’ at the close of each chapter help armchair hunters get a sense of what it might be like digging into their own heaping plate of camp meat, deer hearts or sun-dried jerky…the writing is
steadfastly satisfying and clear. The author wisely allows philosophical questions pertaining to the validity of hunting and the efficacy of state-enforced regulations to simmer in the background, and he effectively shows nature in all its glory…
An insider’s look at hunting that devotees and nonparticipants alike should find fascinating.”
“On one level, [Rinella has] penned an entertaining collection of the sort of anecdotes that, if you had the good luck to meet him at a Brooklyn hipster’s cocktail party, would be conversational gold. Though animals figure almost as prominently in his narrative as people, Rinella is
an astute observer, with an eye for delightfully telling details…But in
Rinella does more than tell stories well and share exotic cooking tips. He writes from the standpoint of a married writer and father living in one of the world’s more densely populated metropolises. His book
sets up an implicit contrast between city and wilderness, semi-settled midlife and a more footloose young manhood.”
“For the typical urbanite, feeling disdain for gun owners is about as easy as broiling a boneless, shrink-wrapped chicken breast: They’re hicks. Red State rubes. Mowing down Bambi with their assault rifles. Meanwhile, we meander the supermarket aisles, poking around for grass-fed this or free-range that, floating in a cloud of ethical contradiction and denial. Without breaking it down this polemically, Steven Rinella, in his memoir,
Meat Eater, rigorously describes his trajectory from unexamined to intensely reconstructed killer of wildlife, a progression that should assist the typical city slicker in replacing categorical dismissal with something more akin to nuanced understanding…
It’s evident from Chapter 1 that we are in the hands of a seriously experienced hunter-gatherer and writer, which translates on most pages to very authentic-feeling reenactments of the hunt, including both its inherent vibrancy and distress. And critically, we witness Rinella’s evolving sense of what all this killing might mean. Acutely conveyed are the ways society is elbowing aside an age-old practice, often bloody and brutal, and replacing it with practices numbingly antiseptic and increasingly unreal. By the end, regardless of how you feel about guns or hunting, its appeal has ironically been made alive. It’s the perfect negative image of our pervasive technological moment — bracing, dangerous, and direct rather than mediated, packaged, and disassociated….
Rinella’s writing is unerringly smart, direct, and sharply detailed…Each of his small-bore narratives, whether it unfolds on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Montana, Alaska, Arizona, or Mexico, bristles with the magic of a specific, authentic place.”
“Chances are, Steven Rinella''s life is very different than yours or mine. He does not source his food at the local supermarket. Meat Eater is
a unique and valuable alternate view of where our food comes from—and what can be involved. It''s a look both backward, at the way things used to be—and forward—to a time when every diner truly understands what''s on the end of the fork.”
“If hunting has fewer participants and advocates than ever before, Rinella is doing his best to reverse the trend.
informative, passionate, literary, funny, and well, cool. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about his work is that it offers readers who only ‘hunt’ at the local grocery store the opportunity to enjoy a vicarious adventure or two in the world of outdoor protein gathering…
Rinella’s audience will continue to grow, based on his thoughtful writing.”
Woven into Rinella’s thoughtful prose detailing his outdoor adventures (or misadventures, in some cases) are historical, ecological, or technical observations dealing with the landscape, the animals, or the manner in which the game is harvested. Also, almost every chapter is finished with short ‘Tasting Notes’ that outline the culinary dos and don’ts for meat from game like squirrel, black bear, and mountain lion.
Rinella has a passion for hunting and wilderness that comes across in his writing, and even if you don’t agree with his ideas on hunting lions with dogs or catch-and-release fishing
you can’t help pondering the arguments he makes. And that seems to be the point of the book, to make you think—about your relationship with nature, about what you eat and why you eat it—and if that’s Rinella’s motivation, this book succeeds.”
In addition to being an expert chef known for working with wild game,
Steven Rinella is an outdoorsman, writer, and television and podcast personality with an exceptional ability to communicate the hunting lifestyle to a wide variety of audiences. The host of the television show and podcast
MeatEater, he is also the author of two volumes of
The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game;
Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter;
American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon; and
The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine. His writing has appeared in many publications, including
Outside, Field & Stream, The New Yorker, Glamour, The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Salon, O: The Oprah Magazine, Bowhunter, and the anthologies
Best American Travel Writing and
Best Food Writing.
This book has a hell of a lot going for it, simply because it’s a hunting story. That’s because hunting stories are the oldest and most widespread form of story on earth. The genre has been around so long, and has such deep roots, that it extends beyond humans. When two wolves meet up, they’ll often go through a routine of smelling each other’s breath. For a wolf to put his nose to another wolf’s mouth is to pose a question: “What happened while you were hunting?” To exhale is to answer: “You can still smell the blood.”
Of course, nothing tells a hunting story like a human. Long ago, our ancestors may have told hunting stories in ways that are similar to those of animals today. It’s been proposed that the human kiss finds its origins in a mouth-to-mouth greeting similar to that of the modern wolf’s. Similarly, it’s been proposed that the handshake originated as a way of proving that neither party was concealing a weapon.
But at some point—at least by fifty thousand years ago, though possibly much earlier—we began to tell our hunting stories through the complex languages that are now a hallmark of our species. Linguists and anthropologists theorize that complex language evolved just for this purpose: to coordinate hunting and gathering activities, to categorize an increasingly complex arsenal of hunting tools and weapons, and to convey details about animals and habitat that might be hidden from sight. In short, language came about for the same purposes that I’m engaged in at this very moment.
Granted, these first hunting stories were probably not “stories” at all, at least not in the way we now think of that word. I imagine them more as instructions and descriptions, which is fitting, since the purpose of the vast majority of writing about hunting today is to teach readers how to do something. This “something” can often be quite esoteric. Maybe it’s a technique for hunting mallard ducks over flooded corn in Iowa, or maybe it’s an explanation of why it’s better to sharpen the blade of your skinning knife at an angle of thirteen degrees rather than fifteen. Hunters usually call this kind of information “how-to,” and I have read and enjoyed a great many pieces of how-to writing in my life. But while you will find a trove of hunting tips and tricks within this book, this is not intended as how-to material. Instead, you might think of this book as why-to, who-to, and what-to. That is, this book uses the ancient art of the hunting story to answer the questions of why I hunt, who I am as a hunter, and what hunting means to me.
As I ponder the first of those questions—why do I hunt?—two particular moments come to mind. The first took place on a recent spring day when I was hunting turkeys in the Powder River Badlands of southeastern Montana with my brother Matt. Early that morning we left Matt’s pack llamas, Timmy and Haggy, tethered near our camp. Matt headed south, and I went into the next valley to the west. Around late morning I started after a tom, or male turkey, that I’d heard gobbling several hundred yards away. I followed the bird for close to an hour, only once catching a glimpse of it. He was walking fast along the edge of a sandstone cliff, maybe about thirty yards higher than me and two hundred yards out. I sat down amid a tangle of fallen timber and used a turkey call to mimic the soft clucks of a hen.
Almost as soon as I did, the tom jumped off the cliff and took flight. He flapped his wings maybe six times and soared right over my head. Turkeys are not graceful fliers; nor are they graceful landers. This one crashed through the limbs of a ponderosa pine and then thudded to the ground on the timbered slope of a deep ravine off to my left. I turned my head in that direction, so that my chin was over my left shoulder. I kept on clucking. I was hopeful that the tom would come to check on the source of the calls, but after a couple of minutes I hadn’t seen or heard a thing. I called some more, but still nothing happened.
You have to be very careful about movement and sound when you’re hunting turkeys, so I continued to hold dead still even though I hadn’t heard or seen the bird since it landed. Maybe about five minutes went by without my ever turning my head away from its position over my left shoulder.
And then something strange happened. Suddenly, someone sighed very loudly just behind my right shoulder. I’ve had coyotes and bobcats come to my turkey call, but this sigh sounded like that of an annoyed person who was slightly out of breath from running up a hill. My immediate response was to turn my head very quickly in its direction. My chin was just about to begin passing over my right shoulder when I noticed a large male black bear standing on its rear feet with its front feet propped up on a log that was leaning against the log that I was leaning against. I’m sure he was hoping to find a nest full of turkey eggs and, if everything went well, to catch the turkey, too. Now he was staring at me with a very inquisitive look in his eye as he struggled to recalibrate his expectations.
I once heard a radio interview with a neuroscientist who studies mental processes during extremely stressful moments. He described how people in such situations will recall having dozens of distinct thoughts in the seconds that it takes for, say, a person that has fallen from a roof to hit the ground. His belief, he explained, is that we aren’t actually having those thoughts when we think we are; rather, through a trick of memory, we just think we had them whenever we try to recall the moment. Regardless of what that guy says, I know that I had the following thoughts over the course of the next second or so: I thought about how weird it was that this bear and I both happened to be hunting turkeys in the same place at the same time; and I thought about how weird it was that I was trying to deceive a turkey in order to kill it and eat it, and how my efforts to do so had in turn deceived another creature that would have liked to have killed and eaten that turkey as well; and I wondered what effect my turkey gun, a twelve-gauge shotgun loaded with copper-coated #5 pellets, would have on a black bear at close range; and I imagined myself making a case for self-defense when I was investigated by a game warden for killing a black bear without the proper permit; and I imagined what it would be like to get mauled by a black bear; and, if I did get mauled, I imagined that it would be a very minor mauling as the bear would quickly realize that I wasn’t what he was after; and then I thought about how black bears hardly ever mess with people; and then I imagined myself telling this story for a very long time, regardless of the actual outcome.
The bear interrupted this whirlwind litany of thoughts with a woof, like the first noise a dog might make when someone knocks at the door. He then ran off through the timber at the casual pace of a jogging human. The sound of the bear’s running died away, and the forest returned to its usual crisp and breezy stillness. I leaned back to wait for my pulse to slow, as it was racing at a speed that I figured to be unhealthy. I sat for maybe five minutes, just breathing and thinking. I had that grateful and relieved feeling that you get when you first realize that you’re recovering from the flu. Then I heard a turkey gobble, so far away and faint that the sound seemed more like a feeling than an actual noise. I got up to look for it, happy to be alive and walking in this wonderful and ancient world where bears sigh and turkeys gobble.
The second moment that helps answer the question of why I hunt occurred well over two thousand miles to the north of where I was hunting turkeys. I was camped on the North Slope of Alaska’s Brooks Range, about seventy-five miles south of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea. I’d been there for a week, waiting for the arrival of caribou. I hadn’t intended to stay so long, and I was running low on food. This was worrying me just as the sound of food came by. I was lying in my sleeping bag during the first moments of morning light, and the noise I heard was a rush of wings so close to my tent that the nylon quivered. It was followed by the strange cackling of ptarmigan, a grouselike bird that is bigger than a quail but smaller than a pheasant. My brother Danny has heard their call described as go-back, go-back, go-back, but it reminds me more of Curly’s signature laugh from the Three Stooges—a sort of nyack-nyack-nyack.
My boots were frozen, but I pulled them on as best as I could and stepped out to a gravel bar that was crusted in frost. I dragged a rubberized duffel bag out from under my flipped-over canoe, grabbed a twenty-gauge shotgun in one hand and a handful of shells in the other, and trotted off in the direction that the birds had gone. I crossed the ice of a small pond, formed where a braid of the river had become isolated from the main channel. It was almost frozen to the bottom, and I could see a small school of sticklebacks biding their time inside a doomed world. The pond ended at a steeply eroded cut bank. I pulled myself up the ledge and then rose to my feet. I was now standing on the soft, moss-padded ground of the tundra. The birds had already molted to their white winter plumage, though there was no snow yet. This was bad for them but good for me, as I could see them running along the ground as plainly as softballs rolling across a field.