Steven Rinella has a history not unlike mine. We grew up in a world where the great outdoors is revered, studied, and utilized. Hunting and fishing were just a regular part of life — to the point that not being able to get a deer for the deep-freeze every fall meant going hungry that winter. For many people in this country, even today, harvesting wild game, fish, or produce isn’t so much a choice as it’s a way of life.
For me, an Indigenous person who was raised fishing and hunting on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, this is something that’s deep in my bones. It’s a connection to the natural world that we’re losing more and more purchase on as we, collectively, urbanize. As we move away from our hunting and fishing grounds, these issues get confusing and ethically fraught. With that in mind, I thought I’d reach out to someone I see as a fellow traveler on the wild road, the MeatEater (on Netflix, his podcasts, and his website), Steven Rinella.
In a world where dietary mantras dominate lifestyle — vegan, lacto-ovo, vegetarian, carnivore, keto, gluten-free, pescatarian, segan, etc. — eating in line with nature can feel like the rarest of all food decisions. So, I jumped on a call with Rinella, who was in between harvesting some wild mushrooms and hunting for a late-fall deer. We covered a lot of ground from the dropping of his groundbreaking new wild food cookbook to where hunting and harvesting your own food fits into the modern American landscape. We go deep, folks. Plus, you get a killer venison adobada recipe for Thanksgiving at the end!
So, the year is winding down and you have a new cookbook dropping. This is a special book. It’s a comprehensive guide to wild foods from the land and sea. Where did you start and how did you get to the finish line on a book like this?
We started a couple years ago by gathering images. We’ve shot way, way more processing photos than we were able to put in there in the end. I’ve run into this problem a few times, I tend to overdo projects and then really need to cut a lot of material out of ’em.
Since we collected about five times what we could ever put in there, it puts you in the situation of just picking your favorite stuff. I think it winds up being better for the project in the end. It’s better than someone who comes up light and starts making up shit to fill it out. To me, when you look at it, it really feels like the culmination of years of work because of all the different locations and varieties of foods.
What does the book cover?
You know, everything. Like how to process everything from a squirrel to mahi-mahi, and everything in between. In terms of the recipes, I had a lot of stuff. I put a lot of recipes into our guidebooks before. What we did here is that I wound up also using some friends, acquaintances, and chefs I like.
How did you choose the recipes?
It kind of came down to that it was comprehensive and also gave people a really good idea of how to handle a lot of different ingredients. Also, I propose a way to sort of think about wild game cooking, ’cause when you look at wild game cookbooks, a lot of people make the mistake of acting like there’s such a thing as a whitetail deer recipe, or a mule deer recipe.
I think that if you’re cooking game, especially horned and antlered game, it’s so much more important to think about the cut. Like, the cut of meat matters far more than what it came off of.
Right. There’s a universality.
I’ll have people be like, “oh, I saw that recipe you had for elk heart. Do you have a recipe for moose heart?” And, you know, it’s unnecessary. So, I’m proposing an approach to wild game that I think might be a little bit unfamiliar to a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of time cooking out of wild game cookbooks.