In Roman mythology, the master of the hunt was the goddess Diana. She was praised for her strength, athletic grace, beauty, and hunting skills.
In Freemasonry, she was a symbol of sensibility and imagination, of poets and artists. Shrines were erected in her honor; stags followed her wherever she went; she ruled the forest and the moon.
I like to think that Diana’s influence has never entirely waned, that hunting was never just about men getting together in the woods. Hunting is for all of us, an extension of our being both humans and animals—our first work and craft, one of our original instincts.
Today I am entirely different than the girl and chef who set out four years ago to learn how to hunt a turkey.
There are the obvious differences, such as the fact that I can shoot a deer through the heart without batting an eye, and then promptly take out the innards on the forest floor with only a pocketknife and my bare hands.
I can skin it and then run the knife along the contours of the muscle until it is broken down into manageable parts.
Then, if I want to, I can portion the meat into those elegant pieces we see neatly wrapped up in plastic in the grocery store meat section, with no signs that it was ever a living thing. Except that for me, I will always know.
I will have looked my food in the eye and made a choice; I will have felt the warm innards in my hands as I pulled them out and laid them on the forest floor for the coyotes and the mountain lions to eat.
It was a struggle to get here, mostly a mental struggle.
It required a slap on the ass and a horseback-riding escapade with a poacher.
It required humility, frustration, hundreds of skeptical looks, and waking up in the dark for most of the fall and winter months—all in the name of sausage, venison meat loaf, and whiskey-glazed turkey breast.
But the journey over field and stream to understand where my food comes from was, simply put, amazing. Even the so-called bloody bits.
There were the irreplaceable meals, the incomparable vistas, the fine cigars and scotch, the almond cakes and gourmet chocolates. But most of all, I am now more awake than I ever was when working in fast-paced four-star kitchens, or on a high-pitched trading floor.
It is as if I have realized again those first pleasures I knew as a child sitting beside my creek in the Hudson Valley, watching the orange fishing bobbin float by under the willow tree.
I am a more thoughtful eater, a more thoughtful chef, and a more awake human being.
I am a fuller woman and in a way, as I step out into the still, clean morning, I am much more like Diana than I ever was.
Your first instinct may be to say “I don’t think I could do it.” The good news is that you don’t have to.
But if you want to feel what it is like to be human again, you should hunt, even if just once. Because that understanding, I believe, will propel a shift in how we view and interact with this world that we eat in. And the kind of food we demand, as omnivores, will never be the same.