Hipsters poaching livelihood from subsistence hunters

By Opinions Editor

Every year, a new “superfood” rolls across social media and into the pantries of health-conscious Americans. The organic obsession has recently reached a new height: Trendy omnivores are now hunting for their own wild meat.

During the past several years, hunting has attracted the attention of more females and urbanites looking to kill for sustenance. From 2006–2011, hunting participation grew 9 percent in the U.S., according to a 2011 report from the Census Bureau, a number that could be attributed to the growing popularity of eating locally-raised produce and meat, and hunting is as local as it gets.

According to a 2011 study from the Organic Trade Association, local-focused eating has increased steadily during the past decade. But while hunting and gathering in the “natural” way may sound like a romantic idea, we are not Paleolithic nomads, and the trend could damage both the animal population and consumers.

Subsistence hunting, or depending on wildlife as a primary or secondary food source, is fairly widespread in the rural U.S. Hunting is a way of life for rural residents—the Census bureau estimates that 58 percent of all U.S. hunters live in rural or small towns. If more metropolitan residents venture into the wilderness to collect their meats, the long-standing rural and small-town ways of life could be threatened by a passing fad.

A number of books and documentaries illuminating the less than idyllic food industry of the U.S., such as the documentary “Food, Inc.” and the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, have increased ethical food awareness in recent years. Some people have transitioned to purchasing local produce from farmers markets and inquiring about the treatment of an animal before it was killed. But killing their own food isn’t the answer, either. If more locavores and organic hunters take up rifles to obtain their all-natural meat, not only would wildlife populations likely dwindle, but those who depend on hunting could see a rise in competition, too.

Hunting is not the first or only victim of the health-novelty craze. Quinoa, the much-acclaimed super-grain imported from Peru, has skyrocketed in U.S. popularity in the past several years. The incredible demand has raised the price of the grain in Peru, however, making it too expensive for people who depend on it, according to a February 2013 Food and Drug Administration report.

Coffee has also suffered the aftermath of increased popularity, according to Fair Trade USA. As higher quality beans have increased in price, coffee farmers are treated poorly and paid little. Fair-trade coffee farmers may not be much better off, according to a decade-long study released in 2009 from Germany’s University of Hohenheim, which found fair-trade Thai coffee farmers were just as poor as their commercially available counterparts.

The international food industry is a web of supply and demand, complicated by commercial agricultural-company politics contending with the more traditional family-business model that has dominated the agricultural industry for thousands of years.

Monsanto, the seed distribution giant, has been at war with small farms for years over copyright infringement on its custom-designed genetically modified seeds, and small farms don’t have the money or time to spend in court to contend the lawsuits. But some of the blame for the jeopardized agricultural industry can be attributed to soccer moms and hipsters, who follow health trends with blind faith without taking time to research their newest gourmet obsession.

The Internet is brimming with information about ethical eating, and digging up under-the-radar information should be a challenge readily taken up by gastronomic hipsters. While they may not want to eat the suspiciously perfect produce, every state in the U.S. has an organic farm of some kind where produce is sold at a price that will support the farm. There are nearly 13,000 organic farms in the U.S. that do not use genetically modified organisms or inject hormones into their livestock, according to the Organic Farm Research Foundation.

Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. food supply is grown on organic farms, according to the OFRF. Playing by the simple rules of economics, if more people demand organic meats and produce, more farms will have to comply with those standards. Organically raised meats and produce are not significantly more expensive than their packaged equivalents: Purchasing them from a farmers market ensures that the person who grew them can verify the growing or living conditions and guarantees that they are the ones who profit.

While a few more hunters would not devastate the country’s wildlife population, stalking a deer for organic venison is a half-baked idea. Instead of sinking money into a hunting license and high-grade equipment, trend-hungry locavores should spend the extra money at a market that carries meat raised on a small farm, which is a little pricier but better than what can be found at a chain grocer. It is also better than digging around for the bullet in the deer afterward.