Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Good Meal

The Mindful Carnivore redirects the slow-food conversation into the woods

A man and a woman sit down to dinner in a restaurant, and through a series of increasingly ridiculous questions about the origin of their meal, end up at a local farm on the outskirts of town where they select their own chicken for dinner. It’s a sketch from Portlandia, but hits pretty close to home for those of us who take our food consumption seriously: scrounging farmers’ markets for local, seasonal, fresh fruits and veggies, starting garden plots, and raising backyard chickens. Most slow-food acolytes draw the line at killing their own food, though, considering hunting, killing, cleaning, and eating wild game to be crossing a line. But they might reconsider after reading The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, a deeply thoughtful memoir of one man’s retreat to meat and a brief history of hunting in the US.

Tovar Cerulli, who will discuss his carnivorous quest at Pegasus Books (2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) on Monday, May 14, enters the conversation about food in a fresh way. A longtime vegetarian turned vegan, Cerulli began reexamining the meat question about five years ago — partly in response to the realization that even local, organic farming poses consequences to animals through habitat loss. Recalling his childhood years spent fishing and occasionally hunting, he took another look at sustenance-driven hunting, an option easily available from his home in rural Vermont. He realized it wasn’t so far out of line with his ideals after all.

“I think that there is real value in having some firsthand engagement with your food if you can, whether it’s in a garden, raising some chickens, hunting — whatever is accessible,” Cerulli explained. The Mindful Carnivore is not a book about hunting, but an examination of the activity from the perspective of someone who might not otherwise give it much thought. “The main audience I had in mind were people who were interested in food as a large topic, and … our relationships as humans to the larger natural world,” Cerulli said. Indeed, his book should hold some value for conservationists, animal welfare activists, and vegetarians alike — if not always as a guidebook, at least as an ice-breaker or conversation piece.

“The book is not a call for everyone to become omnivores,” Cerulli said. “It’s not an omnivore’s manifesto or a hunter’s manifesto,” but an acknowledgement that the issue is even more complicated than we may allow. It’s an invitation “to explore other ways of eating.”

In the book, Cerulli also challenges contemporary stereotypes about hunters. “Like any minority group, it’s easy for the majority to have an experience or hear a few stories and then lump all hunters into that,” he reasoned. He and his hunter-friends practice safety first, abide by written law and unspoken code, try to leave the hunting grounds as natural as when they entered, and are mindful to take a shot only when it’s clean. The Mindful Hunter thus helps hunters to be seen as “thoughtful, compassionate, three-dimensional human beings,” practicing (mostly) compassionate killing. It does not advocate a return to hunter-gatherer days, and Cerulli doesn’t see Americans taking to the woods en masse. But it’s certainly something to chew on. 7:30 p.m., free. 510-649-1320 or

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