Hi, my name is *** and I am a vegetarian…
But I have a little secret too. I come from a family of hunters. In fact, my grandfather and father were top marksmen in their younger days. Riflemen, hunters, pros.
I remember that, when I was very small, the sound of the gun would scare me. But I was also intensely fascinated by the puff of feathers and the bloodied mess of the dead bird. So I used to run away when my dad was about to shoot and then run back to see what the bird looked like; limp and lolling around in his hand. I do not think of this as an unhealthy or cruel thing for me to have done; I see it as a very natural fulfilment of my curiosity.
When I was about 15 or so, my father took me out to shoot my first gun. It was a shot gun. I cried, because I was terrified. But even worse, my boyfriend at the time was taken out on a hunting expedition to shoot pigeons. He was really unhappy about the whole thing, even though he was a good shot and almost an adult man. The irony.
There was a lot of power in the feeling of the gun against my shoulder, but an immense amount of fear too. I was quite proud of having managed it and I later kept the cartridge with the date penned onto it. When I was in my 20’s my uncle took me out for target practice. Again, I was stressed and nervous, but managed to hit the target every time. I guess I inherited their aim.
Having grown up in a family of huntsman, I harbour a paradoxical perspective: I am a vegetarian who believes that hunting is okay.
But let me qualify that statement: I think that ethical hunting is okay.
Gasp. Any “true” vegetarian will tell me that the term “ethical hunting” is an oxymoron – that by killing an animal you are infringing on their rights.
But I think it all really depends on the premises on which you base your beliefs. For instance:
- I don’t believe the factory farming is ethical because I believe that animals live and die in a cruel way
- I believe that people are too far removed from their food, so that they cannot appreciate the life of the animal that they are eating
- I believe that factory farming has a vastly negative impact on the environment
However, I can easily remedy my conscience when it comes to the hunting of wild game. As it stands in South Africa, perhaps not all game is as “wild” as it seems and there is, possibly, poor treatment of stock and cramped living conditions on game farms. The whole concept of the game farm is now a manufactured and farmed enterprise.
However, that bokkie runs free; eating, breathing, procreating and running when and where it wants, until that one day, while innocently munching on its grass, lights out! The hunter himself is forced to confront that animal, even if it for a brief moment in his scope.
I cannot see this as cruel. If hunting is undertaken in a respectful (understanding the value of the animal and not wasting any of it), conscious (knowing that the hunting is sustainable) and ethical way (by ensuring that the animal does not suffer), I see no point in condemning it.
I also know that my views have been clearly marked by growing up as a young South African in a family of hunters. But here is the thing; both my brother and I have chosen to become vegetarians and we are even willing to take this further. We are both keen environmentalists and do-gooders; I even chose to dedicate my career to environmentalism. I can only think that my life has been enlightened and enriched by these manly men who go out in their kakis and brown boots and come home with something for the pot. I have even allowed myself to respect them for it.
You see, when I really look it from all angles, hunting is not always a question of might over right. This is not always about the power dynamics between the hunter and the hunted. There is something innocent and natural about the process. And, if I had to choose between my own life and that of an animal, I would choose mine.