When I hear the words “local food,” my mind jumps to tiny, sun-drenched fields of kohlrabi and kale, grown by a tie-dye t-shirted farmer and sold with a smile at a farmers’ market.
My mind doesn’t jump to a camouflaged deer blind high in the Green Mountains or an outboard motorboat floating on Lake Champlain, a fishing line stretching off to the side, but recently I’ve been thinking that’s an under-appreciated part of the story.
Hunting and fishing aren’t just a time-honored part of Vermont’s local food system — local, sustainably-raised food well before those were even words we used for our food. They also stand to broaden the discussion on local foods, to welcome others under the umbrella of a movement that’s been criticized as elitist and exclusive.
And, well, the products of those endeavors taste damn good.
It’s because of the latter point that I found myself at a game cooking demonstration at the 21st annual Yankee Sportsmans Classic last Saturday afternoon.
As soon as we were through the door, I turned to ask the ticket attendant a question, then turned back, looking for my Carhartt-jacketed, bearded, baseball-hatted boyfriend, who was there to seek culinary inspiration for the game animals he hopes to land in the near future. Only there was one slight problem: everyone, it seemed, had a Carhartt jacket and a gray ballcap, and he had melted into the crowd.
So I did what any lost, easily distracted food-obsessive would do: I headed for the table that promised samples of barbecue sauces.
Turned out he’d been right behind me, but I didn’t figure that out for another 20 minutes.
In the meantime, walking up and down the rows of tables advertising pelts, rifles, hunting licenses and elk jerky, I couldn’t shake off the uneasy feeling born of my first 20 years of life in New York City, where the local police precinct held “guns are dangerous” seminars and where firearms had no practical purpose but agression and self-defense, and certainly no role in any food system that I knew of. Until I arrived in Vermont for college, guns were simply sinister, nothing more.
Here, though, the tables bedecked with “preserve our second amendment rights” petitions were surrounded by posters demonstrating hunter safety and by foods, slippers and other products made of the bounties of hunting.
There were also some pretty creepy skunk-pelt hand puppets, but I mostly tried to ignore those.
So I was in a contemplative mood when, I finally found the game cooking seminar (and my boyfriend) and we chowed down on venison and duck. And really, nothing argues a point quite like a good meal:
The venison-sausage meatloaf came next, but have you ever tried photographing it? The better it is, the less photogenic.
On the other hand, these buttery, flaky cheddar crackers were photogenic, and they tasted even better:
As with many other things in life, I’m finding that there are many more sides to the local food story (and the firearm story) than I saw at first glance, and it sure doesn’t hurt that some of those sides are quite delicious.
So here’s to new experiences, and here’s to embracing another side of the local foods movement.
(By the way, you can find all the recipes here)