Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The warehouse didn't look like a hunting lodge. It looked something like a 14-year-old's idea of what it would be like to be a really cool 26-year-old: there were neon lights, potted plants sitting on top of an organ, even a full-on boat inside. There were jugs of Carlo Rossi, cans of cheap beer, and a smiling tall guy distributing peaches from a cardboard box (he had recently been named president of Slow Food USA). There was also a full buffet featuring roast boar from an animal that one of the residents had shot and killed himself. It turns out that in San Francisco's Mission District, this was just what a hunting lodge looked like.
The warehouse is home to the Bull Moose Hunting Society, a collection of urban hunting enthusiasts who wanted to get in touch with their meat. Since Nick Chaset and Nick Zigelbaum founded it a year ago, they've found that their "boar-b-ques" uncover a deep-seated desire in San Francisco to hunt and kill.
They've been overwhelmed with membership requests, and they're working to expand their Internet presence into a virtual hunting lodge, a place where new hunters can connect with more experienced hunters and be guided through the process of getting a hunting license, buying a gun, finding a spot, and bagging a boar.
"It gives you the chance to be closer to the food chain, and to be part of the food chain," Chaset says.
When they were just starting out they didn't really know what they were doing. Their first trip, in April 2008, didn't yield any meat. "The Mini Cooper packed with two guns, two 100-gallon coolers and two camo'd novices like ourselves was a sight to see," writes Zigelbaum. But Chaset says his first time hunting was like looking at the world through a new set of eyes--you see tracks, broken twigs, tusk marks, and slow, dark shapes that you would never see on a pleasure hike.
"It gives you the chance to be closer to the food chain, and to be part of the food chain," he says.
For Chaset, the urge to be connected to nature had nothing to do with politics or cultural affiliation. The outpouring of interest from his middle class, liberal friends in San Francisco confirmed that. Most of the members of Bull Moose are alienated by what they think of as traditional hunting societies, but our contemporary right-wing, NRA hunter culture is something of a historical anomaly. Bull Moose is closer to an American sportsman tradition that founded some of the earliest conservation movements--organizations like the Boone and Crocket Club, designed to preserve the wilderness and the thrill of a fair chase.
California's wild boar make the ideal target for the environmentally conscious human predator, too. They aren't wild boars so much as feral pigs that went native after being introduced by European settlers in the 18th century. They wreak havoc on California's ecosystem--the University of North Dakota estimates that ninety seven species of vertebrates and plants are threatened by wild pigs. Wild pigs really only have one natural predator, and these days most of them are more interested in boneless skinless chicken breasts.
In the early days of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Yale's grand old diplomat and noted blowhard Charles Hill referred to the local, sustainable food that we were trying to get into the dining halls as "feminized rabbit food." Hill may have been more provocative than most, but his isn't such an uncommon viewpoint: "organic," to many, still means ill-fitting hemp clothing, thick-cut carrots, a national shampoo shortage, and no meat.
The new wave of food activism, however, is seeing the development of a more conscious carnivore--people like Chaset who see eating meat as a way of engaging with a natural ecosystem on a visceral level. He concedes that there's no way that a paradigm of hunter-gatherers is ever going to feed Western society (agriculture is kind of how we got on this whole civilization kick in the first place), but it can give even a city dweller like him a reminder that no matter how much we try and tame it, the human animal exists in a natural world.