Going Wild with Hunter Angler Gardener Cook’s Hank Shaw

The timeless world of hunting and foraging that writer Hank Shaw documents on his blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook sometimes seems a million miles away from those of us who dwell in the urban jungle. But through tireless exploration and documentation, Shaw's done a lot to bring the rugged world of wild food into the antiseptic world of cyberspace, and do it without a trace of hipster-foraging smugness. We asked Shaw about his hot-off-the-presses book, Hunt, Gather, Cook, and the connections between the duck blind, the forest, and the modern kitchen.

Much of what you write about hearkens back to an older way of obtaining and preparing food. People may be inclined to say: "Well, that's a nice thought, but I just don't have time to forage, or hunt, or fish." Is what you're writing about a luxury avocation, or are there ways for anyone, anywhere in the country, to follow in your footsteps?
Let me start by saying that I did all of this with a day job, so it can be done. But more importantly, my goal is not for everyone to go out and do all of this. My goal is for people to latch onto something that touches them, whether it's foraging for berries or fishing their local rivers or hunting ducks, and make that part of their lives. As for a luxury avocation, I have to laugh. Roughly half of the readers of my blog are rural. These are folks who don't make much money, but who do some of these things as a matter of course.

For suburban or urban folks, foraging, fishing, and hunting are not difficult to fit into normal life. Maybe hunting elk is a stretch, but foraging can be done in urban environments, and some of the best fishing I've ever had was within sight of New York Harbor.

At times I've heard people disparage hunting as cruel and/or exploitative. To your mind, what makes hunting an acceptable, or, as it may be, a noble pastime?
Hunting is no more cruel or exploitative than farming livestock, especially when you start talking about factory farms. The way I see it—and this is a personal choice—is that in hunting, you are facing another creature that is in full possession of its faculties. Yes, we have guns or bows, but we do not always win. Beyond that, I flip the equation: Which situation would I rather be in? Would I rather be free, living the life nature intended, only to die on a particularly bad day? Or would I rather be raised for the slaughter, living in a pen, standing in my own shit, and eating ground-up bits of my neighbors? That, to me, is no choice at all.

Tell us about Hunt, Gather, Cook—what makes it a book worth seeking out?
Hunt, Gather, Cook is part field guide, part memoir, part cookbook. I have about 50 recipes in the book, but the instruction is every bit as important as the recipes. I get so many emails from people who want to learn how to forage, or hunt. I thought this book could help. It may be the only one written in a generation that helps teach adults about hunting—most such books are written for rural boys.

Are you looking forward to your book tour?
I am. It is a chance to finally meet so many readers of the blog with whom I've corresponded over the years. What's more, many of my readers are helping to organize the events in the various cities. This is making the tour more of a party and a homecoming than a chore. Homecoming at Grange in Sacramento should be a great night, too. Hoping my hometown crowd turns out—we want to make the walls shake at that one!

What do you hope people will get out of reading your work?
I think the biggest message in the book is: You can do this. Every organism on Earth knows how to feed itself every day, except humans. How many of us could survive in a world without supermarkets? How many of us know the edible plants that live all around us? Or how to catch a fish or hunt? These are skills humans possessed before we were even fully human. My fondest hope for this book is that it will help people realize that even the small act of eating the edible weeds in their yard is an act of independence in an otherwise computerized, regulated, and sterile world. It's the feeling of becoming a more complete human.

Portrait image source: Holly A. Heyser for Hunter Angler Gardener Cook