How a New England vegetarian adapted to her Wisconsin in-laws’ hunting lifestyle

how a New England vegetarian adapted to her Wisconsin in-laws’ hunting lifestyle

Laura Lash

Awaking in the middle of the night to watch Alternative Nation on MTV, my teenaged self was obsessed with the Boston band Letters to Cleo. Their song “Awake” featured lyrics like, “You’re awake and I’m asleep and / we are so complete that way. / You’re asleep and I’m awake and / everything’s so great.” Opposites attract. The music video was a series of couples’ portraits, clear opposites of each other. One stuck with me: the butcher wearing a bloody apron with his arm around a woman in a PETA T-shirt. And being a budding vegetarian, this image was funny to me. And it stuck with me. And it kind of became the portrait of me, as a wife.  

At age 14, I became a vegetarian. This was before food co-ops and grocery store organic sections were prevalent in our area. In the early ’90s as a too-young-to-drive-to-the-grocery store vegetarian I ate a lot of PB&J sandwiches. Mom, an RN, cautioned that I was doing it wrong. I would lack protein and lose my hair.

Truth be told I’d never liked meat very much. I petitioned for this at the dinner table, but my Wisconsin mom in our Bay State household was putting generous meat-plus-two-sides meals on the table. I doused all meaty things in ketchup to mask the taste. This did not salve my stomach, though. Meat simply disagreed with me. I did not yet have an awareness of the mind-body connection – that meat might be “disagreeing” with me physiologically because psychologically I didn’t have any resolve about killing an animal. I quietly slid into a 17-year phase as a vegetarian: no meat products, only dairy as an animal derivative.

I entered the sitting room and immediately backed myself into an arm chair. My eyes scanned the room up high as I counted seven mounted bucks. A few stray cobwebs waved from the antlers. Tears welled up in my eyes. Being practiced in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, I sat with my awareness. I felt the pang of life lost.

So why the vegetarian column during hunting season? I’m not here to convert or to be vilified. I do want to share the sweet story of realization and growth I’ve experienced in my adult years. I have been vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian, but for nine years now I’ve been partnered to a Wisconsin hunter who was raised in a family that lived surrounded by and loving nature.

When he and I met in Chicago, I knew he was marriage material right away – so I avoided him. I dodged dates and pretended we didn’t have things in common. And there were truly some things we didn’t have in common. Briefly put, he was a gun owning hunter who liked horror movies. I thought I would be a victim portrayed in a Lifetime movie. We met right before my golden birthday, when I turned 30 on the 30th of September.

Previously, during my quarter-life crisis, which occurred precisely at age 25, I’d spent two years vegan and straightedge. This could be a person’s natural lifestyle, but if you believe yourself to be punk rock then you declare with an “X” on the back of your hand and with cotton clothes and shoes that you take nothing from animals and you need no alcohol or drugs to crutch your existence. It was a good cleanse, and I felt better overall. Yet with life study, I softened my grip on how things needed to be. In Chicago and turning 30, I was open to new ways of being. Changing careers and mellowing out a bit, I met this guy. And three months into dating he takes me back home to west-central Wisconsin to meet his parents.

Part of my attraction was his outdoorsiness. It wasn’t Patagonia rock-wall climbing. It was a gentle fondness for the caress Mother Nature could give your whole soul; that being one with nature was a way to be, and it was the choice his family had made in where and how they lived. As young parents, my future in-laws lived off the land, as they explained it. Fishing and hunting put food on the table. Canning and storage of foods was a winterization they enjoyed. I knew there would be mounts around the house, but I was blindsided by the feeling of being near them.

I entered the sitting room and immediately backed myself into an arm chair. My eyes scanned the room up high as I counted seven mounted bucks. A few stray cobwebs waved from the antlers. Tears welled up in my eyes. Being practiced in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, I sat with my awareness. I felt the pang of life lost. I saw lack of action; no more movement coming from these beings. A tear or two fell. Each deer profile was beginning to look different from the others. These were individuals. My mind reeled with questions: Why are they decoration? What is the memory evoked here? Is it like looking at a family travel photo on your bookshelf? I exhaled, and my brain relaxed into a more open way of thinking. I grew curious about this dialogue I could have with the family about animal sensitivity. Intrigue grew about why this living space was fashioned in this way: the hunter, lounging, surrounded by what he had hunted.

I’ve never been able to resolve the step-by-step journey an animal makes to the table. I wanted the noble resolution that I’d be willing to forage and provide anything that I want to ingest for my own well-being. As I grew into my relationship with my future husband, later becoming a mother and the family chef, I slipped into a less meat-free way of being. This was well thought-out all the way. I would never be able to butcher in order to enjoy Easter dinner, but I could honor those that do.

Part of my relaxation came from wondering what is best for me. How do I feel? Mentally and physically? Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” And how do I want to be on this planet? What am I providing to and taking from the Earth? I believe my husband’s family and I share this self-inquiry and have arrived at different answers. Shamanic profiling of deer paints them as an unconditionally loving, peaceful animal in tune with nature. As an observer of their grace, I want them to walk the earth and guide me toward a gentler approach to integrating with the planet. When an injured doe appeared on our property, I inquired about deer nobility and found this quote: “Both Celtic and Native American hunters prayed to the deer to give them a good hunt, and in return promised to take no more than was essential for the survival of the tribe.” This is the respect my new family has for the hunt. Honor and reverence allow them to be in nature and appreciate all the deer has to offer, and the sacrifice is a way of being in tune with our world.

As an earth momma and new resident of Wisconsin, I have arrived in this place with a gentle suggestion: Consider the way you do things. Explore what your needs are and satisfy them. Take what you need and find what you can give back. Ingest what agrees most with your constitution, and if that lands well, then your body-mind will let you know that you are at peace with the planet.

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