By Natalie Butz
In an effort to promote sustainability and expose the Washington College community to under-utilized portions of wild game, anthropology professor Bill Schindler and visiting lecturer Mark Wiest led a “Wild Charcuterie” cooking demonstration on Saturday Nov. 5.
The event was one of many lectures and demonstrations offered at the second annual Locavore Literary Festival.
“For our first year, we had a great turn-out at all our events and one of the things that kept coming up was this interest in what some people call ‘the real local foods,’ meaning wild foods,” said Tara Holste, the co-organizer of the festival. “So that’s how we went from last year where we just focused on farming and your usual farmer’s market local food to this year where we’re focusing on wild foods.”
“Last year, we had the Locavore Lit Fest and the entire discussion all day long on the Saturday of it was about local foods. Local, organic, free-range, all these things and at one point, I said, if we’re going to talk about these things, the most local, organic, free-range kind of food we can have are wild foods. So we started this whole discussion of what we could do to promote this in following years. One of the things that struck me was that’s great, we can sit around and talk about it and hear people discuss wild animals as food and plants as food, but it doesn’t seem very accessible to people nowadays. If we at least had a cooking demonstration where people cold see these things prepared instead of just discussing it, they might actually do it,” said Schindler.
Nowadays, meat is cleaned and trimmed before it ever reaches a plate, but what is left off the plate is often more valuable than what is.
“These things are the most nutrient-dense part of an animal. The meat of an animal and the flesh of an animal is the most nutrient-free. They’re not nutrient-packed like organs are, like marrow is, like fat is. Today, we go to the grocery store and we choose things that don’t have nutrients in them on purpose. Fat-free, cholesterol-free, carbohydrate-free. We choose these foods on purpose because we want to eat all day and not get fat. But that’s not the relationship we’ve had with food for the majority of our existence,” said Schindler.
The demonstration also touched on how the relationship between what we eat and why we eat has changed over the course of human evolution.
“We’ve had this long relationship of using animals for food and other things. But we’ve become distanced from this and when we do eat animals, we typically think of only certain parts of the animal which only equates to about 50 percent of the animal by weight. This is completely different from the way we’ve viewed animals as food in the past. Typically, the choices that we make about food are guided by many decisions that have nothing to do with nutrition. They have to do, in the case of meat, with about 150 years of trying to figure out what parts of the animal are most economically transported from place to place,” said Schindler.
But “Wild Charcuterie” wasn’t just about ancient history. It may be just as important to pay attention to these typically overlooked sources of food today, albeit for different reasons.
“From an ethical viewpoint or a sustainable viewpoint, we throw these things away. Typically when people go hunting, they go, they shoot an animal, they gut the animal. They hopefully bring back the rest of that. They’ve left 30 to 40 percent by weight of that animal right there in the woods. [They] come back and then they only take select cuts of meat, these same cuts of meat mirror what we see in the grocery store, and then [they] throw the rest of that animal away. Not only is it not the most nutritional way of going about these things, it’s not very sustainable or ethical,” said Schindler.
Holste also believed that having discussions about different foods would be beneficial to the community as a whole.
“It is available. There’s a lot of different nutrients that you get from eating wild goods. The parts that are often thrown away which [Schindler] was using in the demonstration today are usually the nutrient-rich parts of the animal and it’s not something that we culturally grow up knowing how to eat,” said Holste.
So why at Washington College?
“College campuses are the places to have these discussions, to think outside of the box and have these nontraditional—I say nontraditional, but this is traditional. This is the thing we’ve done for 200,000 years, but we’ve only stopped doing in the past several decades—this is the place to have those conversations. You reach a certain audience and hopefully that audience will spread the word and have it continue,” said Schindler.