In the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, it took Steve Rinella and his friend Dan, a bowhunter, only a few minutes to spot a pronghorn antelope in the distant brush. Cowan joined perhaps one of the most recognizable hunters in all of America, even though he had never hunted in his life.
“I’m doing what I was born to do, what I love,” Rinella said.
He is the creator and host of the popular TV and web series “MeatEater,” now in its 11th season. It’s hunting the way a hunter sees it—up close and personal—and for Rinella, hunting is personal. He said: “At my core I like nature, I like hunting, I like fishing, I like eating the things I hunt and fish for. And I turned that into the work that I do.”
He came to hunting the way most people do; his father hunted. At the time, he saw it as largely just a sport. “When I was 18, I was obsessed with hunting and fishing. I did not know nor use the word conservation. In my mind, all the resources we enjoyed fell from the sky… they were there for the taking.”
“And they will always be there for the taking?” Cowan asked.
“Get yours while it’s good.”
But today, conservation is at the heart of almost everything MeatEater does. The quality of the hunt, he says, is only as good as the health of the population being hunted, be it deer, fish or anything else. His point is that loving wildlife while still taking the life of a wild animal are not mutually exclusive. “I’ve never met a person in my life who values game, who doesn’t value wildlife,” Rinella said. “And they understand that there’s a limit to how much we can get out of it, or you end up taking the whole thing apart and destroying it.”
Whether you agree with it or not, it’s nothing new. Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway and John James Audubon loved nature and hunting. And then there’s Theodore Roosevelt, who especially loved the land. Rinella said: “He saved about 50,000 acres of mountains, plains, forests in this country for every day he was in office. Why? He was inspired to do this through a connection with hunting.”
The same idea—respecting the resource—is what he tries to teach his own children, and he does so in part through food.
At his home in Bozeman, Montana, Rinella’s refrigerator is stocked with frozen items from his wilderness adventures: elk meat, ducks, wild turkey. Everything here, he says, has a story that brings with it a discussion. “Every night when we eat, we eat something that we’ve grown, that we’ve hunted, that we’ve found in the woods, that we’ve found in our backyard,” he said. “And not a night goes by, no kidding, not a night goes by that we don’t talk about it.”
His cooking also attracted non-hunting viewers. Rinella became the “Julia Child of the campfire.” The last third of almost every episode of “MeatEater” cooks the day’s catch or kill in ways that make the forest look like a 3-star Michelin restaurant, like when it cooks a venison and pumpkin stew.
Rinella said: “I read this story dozens of times, there would be a shock: ‘Wow, this chef, this famous chef’ – whatever, name your famous chef! – “became interested in hunting”. Of course he is. Because he’s interested in food!”
Rinella isn’t trying to convince animal rights activists to suddenly become hunters themselves. But what he hopes is that anyone interested in the show will come away with the idea that hunters are not always enemies of animal welfare. “I talk to my people; by that I mean I’m talking to other, like, outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen,” he said. “I also talk to people who are, like, kicking the tires of this world, who are curious about it. They weren’t curious, they won’t look.’
“MeatEater” has now become a lifestyle brand – clothing and hunting products. He has written a number of bestsellers, including cookbooks. He also has a top-rated podcast. His brand is based on his unique philosophy: that none of us live On the earth we live on with it.
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The story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Emanuele Secchi.