Back in the 1980s, when I was in my twenties, during my hard hat wearing, gun toting, redneck, country music and Southern rock phase, I identified heavily with Hank Williams Junior’s song “A Country Boy Can Survive.” The lyrics were about Southern male pride, living close to the land, and despising Yankees. A couple of verses ran like this:
I live back in the woods, you see
My woman and the kids and the dogs and me
I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a four-wheel drive
And a country boy can survive.
I can plow a field all day long
I can catch catfish from dusk ‘til dawn
We make our own whisky and our own smoke too
Ain’t too many things these ole boys can’t do
We grow good ole tomatoes and homemade wine
And a country boy can survive
It goes on like that. The song builds up to the climax, where the speaker fantasizes about shooting a New York mugger with a .45, but only after spitting Beechnut chewing tobacco in his eye. You get the point.
I have killed, plucked, cooked, and eaten a chicken. I’ve killed and eaten deer, rabbits, doves, squirrels, raccoons, bullfrogs, salmon, catfish, bass, bream, crappie, blue crabs, shrimp, and once, an opossum (with sweet potatoes as a side dish), which was a little greasy, and required a considerable effort of not thinking about it to get it down. I’ve never killed an alligator, but I’ve come upon them in the wild—way too close, in fact—and I’ve eaten them too.
I’ve evolved since then—much more urban, much less redneck, and I don’t hate Yankees, though I still enjoy the guilty pleasure of Southern rock and roll: the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I also still like the idea of living close to the land, growing some of my own food and being minimally more self-sufficient. I like the idea of knowing how my food has been handled, and that it hasn’t caused suffering, whether for the migrant workers picking it or the animals providing it, or environmental damage. The reasons are not so much for health as they are for ethics. I haven’t hunted for almost two decades, and even when I did, I spent most of the time sitting in a sunny spot in the woods with my rifle and a book, happy to be outside. For years now, my wife and I have paid more for cage free eggs, free range meat, and organic produce. I prefer supporting organic farmers, especially the local farmers’ market, rather than corporate and factory farms. Part of it is because of the sense of community and the impact on the local economy, but even more, the more I learn about where most of our meat comes from and the conditions it is produced under, the closer I come to giving up meat altogether. My theory is that an animal’s life should be meaningful, or at least natural, before I eat it, and I’m about one more Fast Food Nation or Food, Inc. away from becoming a vegetarian.