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Hunting down our hypocrisy on food

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is pushing the idea that the Christmas season — usually associated with cuddly holiday mascots and new puppies under the tree — is the ideal time to go out and kill stuff.

"Children will be out of school on winter breaks soon and, as the holidays approach, so do several traditional hunting seasons,'' spokesman Tony Young wrote on the commission's Web site.

"Here's wishing you happy holidays and a successful hunting season.''

As if to actively encourage yuletide slaughter, the commission scheduled doe season in the Panhandle for Christmas week. If you want to drive north and spend Boxing Day stalking Rudolph's biological aunt, you still have a chance; the season ends today.

This all probably sounds strange to most modern, urban Floridians. It did to me, I admit. But the more I considered it, the more I thought: Why not?

First, Young is definitely correct on one point he makes in his news release — that holidays have traditionally been set aside for hunting. The Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count, for example, was started in 1900 to compete with "side hunts,'' which were then routinely scheduled for Christmas morning.

Teams of hunters, or "sides,'' would spread out in the woods. The one that returned with the biggest pile of carcasses was declared the winner.

I'm not advocating such slaughter, and neither is the conservation commission. But I do think hunting has its place and that a lot of people who criticize it are hypocrites.

We don't have enough natural predators (yes, thanks mostly to earlier generations of hunters). So, to prevent starvation and disease that comes with overpopulation of species such as deer, Florida needs hunters, whose numbers here and in most of the country are in sharp decline.

Humans aren't perfect replacements for, say, the Florida panther. They mostly pass up plentiful animals such as raccoons and opossums in favor of increasingly rare ones, like ducks and quail.

And, while natural predators single out the old and the weak, humans seek prime breeding stock, which is why you see 10-point bucks on the cover of those pulpy hunting magazines rather than crippled, gray-muzzled does.

Still, most hunters eat what they kill, which would be an enlightening exercise for any of us meat eaters. Those hams, drumsticks and roasts we feast on this time of year came from animals that were likely raised in hideously crowded and filthy conditions.

They were slaughtered, skinned and butchered on assembly lines — then thoughtlessly consumed by people who might consider someone like Dave Cock a bloodthirsty brute.

Cock, of Spring Lake, spoke to me last week from his hunting camp in Taylor County and was actively dreading his return to civilization for Christmas. Ask him what he likes to hunt, and you get a long, grisly list that includes feral pigs, elk, deer and wild turkey.

All of which reminds him of what a lot of us would like to forget: that eating meat requires killing downy or furry creatures not that different from turtle doves or, if you get right down to it, the Grinch's mutt, Max.

You think he had it bad, do you? What about that unlucky roast beast?

Hunting down our hypocrisy on food 12/25/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 5:52pm]
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