On Thinking Small and Going Wild with an Ethical Hunter, Forager and Cook

At Jody Peck‘s table, wild game is the main course and the conversation centrepiece. The local cook is impassioned by a respect for the ingredients that she owes to generations of living on the land. In the kitchen (or over the fire) this translates to a “full-circle food experience” that she hopes creates a bond between diners, their environment and the food she hunts, forages and processes.

Peck will be serving up her wisdom and cuisine at two highly anticipated Vancouver events this April. The first is an in-store, three-course tasting and demonstration at Fjällräven‘s Kitsilano location on April 5th (details and tickets for that can be found here). Then, on April 18th, Peck will be participating in the (sadly but unsurprisingly sold out) “Wild Feast” dinner at Mamie Taylor’s. Read on for a tasty teaser and to learn more about how Peck’s roots are propelling ethical eating into a sustainable future…

Tell me about your experience with the hunting and foraging community. I grew up in the Peace River Valley in north-eastern BC and spent every fall in the Mackenzie Mountains of the NWT working with my family in a hunting outfit. For my entire life, late summer has been marked by driving up the Alaska Highway and watching the fireweed blossoms turn from bright fuchsia to white fluff as my family heads north. Growing up in the bush generations deep in that lifestyle formed my relationship with nature. When I think of food, I think of the season, the ecosystem and the relationships occurring naturally between plants and animals instead of just a trip to the grocery store. When I was young it didn’t occur to me that the meat we ate was “wild meat”. It was meat and I knew exactly where it came from. I had never heard the word “foraging”, but I’ve always used what was growing around me and have a deep competitive streak when it comes to berry picking. From my perspective, hunting and foraging have always been intertwined with food, family, and the land.

What is the most underrated ingredient? Because the meat I eat comes from an animal that I observed in the wild, harvested, butchered and cooked, I utilize as much of it as I can. To be completely honest, my favourite parts of the animal are the underrated parts. I love the bone marrow, the shanks, the heart, the tongue. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and share the tenderloins from an animal I’ve harvested (and they never make it to the freezer), but the underrated cuts are often the most flavourful.

What are the benefits of hunting and wild harvesting, including those that extend beyond making the world a better place for the human species (i.e. how does it benefit the flora and fauna)? For many people who hunt and forage as a way of life, conservation is an important part of the equation. I truly believe that if people experience the wilderness and it becomes an important part of their lives, they will have a vested interest in preserving it and making sure it is thriving for future generations.

“Nature is incredibly dynamic and what worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work today in terms of harvest, sustainability and conservation…The biggest misconception that I often witness is that hunters and non-hunters are fighting for different outcomes, when at the heart of the matter, both hunters and non-hunters are fighting to see wild spaces remain wild and healthy.”

What sort of impact do you hope to make with your endeavours? I feel the most nourished, grateful and at home when I’ve prepared a meal that uses ingredients from the land around me. It can be the most simple and natural combinations; moose meat and juniper, cranberries and bone marrow. These symbiotic relationships mirrored on the plate as they occur in nature make me feel connected to the land, the food I’m eating and the people I’m sharing it with. My biggest hope is that people eating the food I cook experience a full circle connection from the land, to the plants and animals, to the table, and back to interest and engagement in land stewardship.

People are quick to latch onto food fads (cases in point: the proliferation of veganism; the raw food movement; the juice business explosion; the gluten-free trend; “farm to table” restaurants, etc.) What is the key to instilling a genuine and long-lasting connection to food in this day and age? I don’t think that eating food that has been sustainably harvested, small scale farmed, or seasonal is a fad. I think it’s a return to the way that humans have been eating for a long time. It is an anti-fad.

You’ve had a unique upbringing and lead a remarkable but unusual lifestyle. How can the average busy, city-dweller implement your hunting and dining ethos into their lives? I’m not convinced that it is the goal of every person to implement hunting into their lives, or that it should be. Self sustainability may be some people’s long term goal, but it comes with a commitment to skill building, ongoing education and a great respect for the land. Something we can all do, about three times a day, is to make conscious choices about how we eat. I’m not talking about fanatically buying ingredients from only health food stores, but about supporting local farmers when possible, cooking a few meals a week from scratch, taking a wild plant workshop, acknowledging the traditional territory where you live, and having an awareness of where your food comes from. These small acts create an important connection between people, food, and the land.

Why is it important for people to be rooted with their natural environments and its inhabitants? How can this connection with the land be imparted into future generations? I think it’s important for people to connect with nature so that they care about it. Food is essential, but also very personal. If we establish a relationship with our food that relates back to land, we’re more likely to care about the land.

What is the future in ethical hunting, cooking and dining? Where do you personally fit into this grander picture? I think that the people who take part in this lifestyle will have no choice but to advocate for the wild places, plants and animals. The trend of wild food making its way onto the plates of foodies is essentially a good thing. This is bringing more awareness to the naturally occurring biodiversity in British Columbia and creating opportunities to work together to keep those resources plentiful and healthy.

I’m happy to be part of wild food’s migration into the city because it celebrates how I cook and eat. I’m constantly expanding my knowledge and experience when it comes to hunting, foraging and cooking, and I’m excited to be in a position where I get to share with others. It’s worked out really well for me that this passion and skill set I’ve been building my whole life is something that people are hungry for.

How can people interested in embracing your lifestyle get a proper education and what are the first steps that you advise for them to take? What resources do you advise for them to use? Harvesting your own food is a lifelong learning process, and there’s always more to learn than anyone will ever know. With that in mind, I send the hunting-curious or wild food enthusiasts to EatWild. You can check them out online and take the first steps towards ethically harvesting your own food with experienced mentors and courses that will put you on the right track.

As a starting point this spring, I’d suggest checking out the “weeds” popping up in your backyard and try to identify them using online resources or a wild foraging guide. You might be surprised by how many are edible. You might also be surprised by how satisfying that simple spring salad you hand-harvested was to eat, and you probably won’t walk by a dandelion without fully appreciating it ever again. Of course, don’t eat anything that you can’t positively identify!

What is the biggest misconception about hunting and foraging, in your opinion? Conversations about hunting and foraging are really important because perspectives are always evolving in our ever changing world. Nature is incredibly dynamic and what worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work today in terms of harvest, sustainability and conservation. One thing that hunters and non hunters can agree upon is that habitat preservation is incredibly important. If habitat is threatened, animals and plants are threatened, and it doesn’t matter what your stance on hunting is – that is a huge loss. The biggest misconception that I often witness is that hunters and non-hunters are fighting for different outcomes, when at the heart of the matter, both hunters and non-hunters are fighting to see wild spaces remain wild and healthy.

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