ESSAY- Localvore's dilemma: How I learned about shooting food

"I'm sorry, honey," I said, extracting a toy rifle from the small hands of the visiting 8-year-old boy, "but we don't allow guns at our house, not even toy ones." I then walked the twenty feet from our front door to the sidewalk, safely over our property line, and placed the gun on the cement. 

Oh, it's not easy, this parenting gig. And often, during their time under my roof, I suspect it was not easy being one of my children.

Back when we lived in densely-populated Columbia, Maryland, the only thing you could do with a gun was hurt somebody with it. So, why would I want my children to rehearse such behavior with pretend equipment? We were vegetarians at the time, so pretend hunting wasn't cool, either.

I was pondering this memory last night as I tucked into a tender and flavorful hunk of venison. I'm no longer a vegetarian, but I do have standards, after all, and not only is this meat free-range and free of hormones, it was free, period. 

This is what can happen when a child is raised by rabid anti-gun parents: He grows up to be a rabid hunter, with an impressive collection of new and antique guns.

And Mum and Dad get a steady supply of venison.

Maybe I should be thinking, "Where did I go wrong?" I'll admit the thought crossed my mind a while back, but that was before the deer steaks began to show up in our freezer.

Our kids were raised in a home of bleeding-heart liberals, where both politics and awareness of healthy foods were basic staples of conversation. When they learned to read, they would scrutinize the ingredient labels on cereal boxes to see whether there was more sugar than oats in their Cheerios. 

When we watched the local news from our home in Maryland, a feature of every broadcast was the blood-on-the-sidewalk shot from that day's murder scene in Washington or Baltimore.

The outside world was bearing down with violence, (as well as with with chemical- and sugar-laced food), so it was my job to guard the threshold and keep that stuff out of our home.

Happily, we had the good sense to escape to rural Virginia while they were still children. And rural Virginia has shaped our son in a way I never would have anticipated. Come to think of it, this environment has made its mark on me, too. 

Before I came here, I didn't give much thought to hunting. I figured it was what modern-day men did maybe once a year as an excuse to drink beer all day and hang out in the woods– a laughable imitation of what our forebears did in order to survive.

Oh, how wrong I was! Turns out, a lot of people rely on what they can bring down with a firearm to feed their families. They have chest freezers to store the meat they acquire during hunting season, and that's their main source of protein for much of the year.

Moreover, this idea of an average citizen shouldering a gun and having the right to go out and harvest animals is a deeply American construct. Back in the Europe of my ancestors, the land belonged to the monarch and other royals, and hunting was their private diversion. You might be able to buy the right to hunt on their land, if you were lucky and well connected and could afford it. 

My great grandparents fled Ireland during the mid 1800s when the potatoes were blighted and absentee English landowners forbade them from shooting down any birds flying over their homes. The birds belonged to the landlords.

Thanks in part to Teddy Roosevelt, who fostered the idea of a vast public commons, we have parks and wildlife management areas in Virginia where both rich and poor have access to hunting.

And now, our gun-toting grown-up son, Jackson Landers, is teaching folks (who may well have been raised by zealous anti-gun parents like yours truly) how to fill their own freezers with succulent cuts of deer carcass.

This fall, Jackson is conducting a class in Charlottesville called "Deer Hunting for Locavores" wherein he teaches people how to use a gun, how to track a deer, and how to butcher the animal once you bag it. 

The word "locavore" makes me think of the gentle souls I run into while shopping for organic vittles at Integral Yoga or Whole Foods. These are people whose cars sport anti-war bumper stickers and occasionally bicycle racks– but not gun racks.

Judging from the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response Jackson has gotten to this class offering, the desire for a free source of sustainable meat, untainted by chemical additives, is strong. 

But I also suspect that there's an entire generation of people raised by pacifist parents who are delighted because (at last!) they have a great excuse to play with guns.