With Rachel Carrie
125 pigeons, 80 pheasants and partridges, 40 ducks, and four deer might read like the ingredients for a particularly extravagant medieval banquet (where’s the peacock?) but is in fact the tally when, for a year, Rachel Carrie decided to feed her family only on meat she had shot herself.
Predictably labelled ‘the glamorous face of hunting’, Rachel accepts that her appearance has done no harm in bringing her to public attention on TV sofas and elsewhere, but is happy to use that exposure to argue for the virtues of game, and to remind a wider public that she is just one among thousands of people promoting an ethical field to fork lifestyle.
Her passion for hunting began at an early age, and from an interesting starting point. An ‘avid animal lover’, at the age of 7 she became a vegetarian when she made that all-important connection between pig and pork, cattle and beef. For any sensitive child, this raises very real questions about the meat on your plate: how did it get there, was it happy, did it suffer? A year later, her father took her rabbit hunting, taught her the ropes and showed her how to skin and prepare the meat. As she describes it, it was at this point that those questions coalesced and were addressed by his demonstration. This was wild game, it had lived a happy life, free ranging, eating the food it’s supposed to eat. It died quickly and cleanly, with minimal suffering. Showing an admirable grasp of logic and moral philosophy in one so young, Rachel remained nominally a vegetarian, while perfectly happy to eat her mother’s rabbit stew.
Fast forward a decade or two, and the principle remains the same – only eat what you’ve killed yourself, so can be certain of provenance and lack of suffering – but the menu has expanded. Whenever the freezer gets low it’s time to restock, and out goes the gun to the local farmland over which Rachel shoots. And while she admits that she has on rare occasions (although not during her designated year) succumbed
to the temptation of a quick fix and bought and cooked chicken, with a family long schooled in the superior flavour of game the results have not been well received.
Writing about Game and Gatherings, her latest recipe book aimed at inspiring a wider public to appreciate the merits of game, Rachel crystallised her core message. “Game is abundant, accessible, healthier and much kinder in terms of the environment and animal welfare.”
We spoke by phone in May 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Is there any game you don’t or wouldn’t eat?
No. But I currently have a voluntary ban on woodcock, just because of the decline in numbers in the last couple of years. Quite a sharp one, and I’ve decided not to shoot them until those numbers get back up.
But I’m from Yorkshire, and I had one of those mums who, if it’s on the plate, you eat it. I do, however, draw the line at roadkill. I’m all against waste, well I’m in waste management by trade, and part of my job is disposing of the bodies the Highways Agency bring in. And it’s hard to get beyond why they’re there and how they’ve suffered.
Is there a conflict for you in enjoying killing?
It’s not enjoyment as such. The pleasure comes from all the effort that’s gone into it. And a lot of work does go into it, whether it’s training at the rifle range for many years or a perfectly executed stalk that gets you to within a decent range in order to make sure that there’s no suffering. So much goes into executing a perfect shot that you can’t help being pleased when you put all of those things together: you know, time served, experience, skill and knowledge all coming together in a single moment. You can’t not be pleased by that. »
Do you see yourself as a cook who hunts or a hunter who cooks?
A hunter who cooks, definitely. And definitely not a chef. Call me a good cook and I’ll be happy with that.
Tell me about your famous distaste for chicken.
That’s not fair. I don’t have a distaste for chicken as long as it’s had a life similar to that of a pheasant. Not long ago, during the lockdown and owing to the stage of the season we were in, my stock of frozen pheasant ran out and I was forced to get some chicken from the supermarket, the only local place that was open. I went to so much effort, a lovely southern fried pheasant recipe, where you marinate overnight in buttermilk, and there’s all the spicing, and the carefully seasoned breadcrumb coating. And we bit through this beautiful crust and instead of the usual flavoursome pheasant what was inside was simply ghastly, flabby, disgusting.
I honestly think that if you get out there, and cook some factory chicken alongside some pheasant, and offer it as a blind taste test, pheasant will win hands
down every time, anywhere. Plus it’s not easy to get hold of a decent chicken. In rural areas we’re better off than elsewhere, we can go to farm shops and buy grain fed chickens, but it’s revealing how so many traditional supply networks have broken down. With lockdown a lot of people were suddenly made aware of provenance, of what happens when cheap imports stop coming in from Brazil or wherever, so people are really starting to recognise where things come from. There were people who had lost track of where meat comes from, and were reconnected with that.
Do you only use guns?
That’s right, shotgun and rifle. I don’t use a bow, which anyway is illegal in the UK. I could go to the states, but the time and energy required to do it well enough to be confident; it’s just not worth it. We used to fly a Harris hawk though, with my family when I was young . That’s what first got me into hunting.
I saw your appearance on This Morning on the question Has veganuary gone too far? So, Rachel Carrie, how did you manage to avoid punching the aggressively verbose vegan activist Joey Armstrong?
Ha! That’s a good question. I thought I showed him appropriate respect, but sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Let others show themselves as they are. //