Over the course of a few years, I continually read about Civil War battles; I immersed myself in the stories of many battles, from Shiloh to Gettysburg, and I was absolutely taken in by the details and experiences of those events. I would try to envision the horror and beauty of Shiloh’s Hornet’s Nest, where – because of the sheer number of bullets that were being fired – the peach tree blossoms drifted gently down, covering the ground like a fresh snowfall; and I would do my best to picture what it must have felt like to stand at the precipice of Little Round Top, while Texans and Alabamans tried – with a rebel yell and pure determination – to push the 20th Maine regiment back against itself, in the hopes of changing the course of the entire battle and, quite possibly, the entire war.
For a number of years, I continued to read everything I could related to the Civil War. I would study the different battle locations on maps, trying to get an idea of how the battles evolved, as well as how the individuals felt when they were fighting those battles. I was ultimately trying to get a grasp of what the land involved with the battle was like, as well as how it felt to be immersed in such horrors and beauty all at the same time.
But nothing – and I mean nothing – made me understand the battles more than actually walking the ground where the battles were fought.
I needed to walk the ground. I needed to actually stand in the middle of the Sunken Road at Shiloh to truly have any kind of understanding of what it felt like to fight and die there. I needed to stand on Little Round Top, and look down upon the immense boulders of Devil’s Den, to have any kind of firm grasp on how it felt to fight and hold that hill on that hot July morning. I needed to step on the rocks, walk the path, and stare down the ridge to have a true feel for what it must have felt like on the day the battle was fought.
And, I believe, to truly appreciate your food – to appreciate where it comes from, how it’s processed and brought to table, the work that is involved in that process, as well as the reward that comes from it – requires the same type of hands-on experience.
We can read book upon book filled with food recipes. We can study how food should be prepared, the temperature it needs to be in order to be seared to perfection; and we can even take a bite and actually taste and appreciate the flavor that comes with a perfectly cooked steak or chicken breast. But we’ve still missed a key part in the food experience – actually killing the animal and immersing oneself in the blood after a hard-fought hunt.
While I admit to eating many different things, which didn’t require any effort on my part – I merely had to sit down, dig in, and enjoy the flavor of the food placed before me – when I sit down to eat a piece of venison, goose, or wild turkey breast, it brings the entire food experience to a new level. With every bite that is placed in my mouth, the flavor is much more intense, and I appreciate the bounty before me that much more. The meals that are associated with the wild game I have killed myself are not taken lightly; they are an entire experience, and each bite is an immediate reminder of the work and joy that comes from providing food for the table.
Eating the meal, and appreciating the flavor and taste, are like reading the book and studying the maps; but hunting, and ultimately killing and processing the food that is placed in front of us and our family, is like actually walking the ground.