WASHINGTON — When Hank Shaw started his website Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook in 2007, not everyone lauded his approach to food.
In fact, many readers gave him a hard time for killing and cooking his own meat.
“I call these the cellophane people. What I used to get all the time were regular folks, people who would buy meat at a supermarket, and they would call me a monster because I go out and get it myself,” said Shaw, a James Beard Award-winning author.
“I don’t really get that anymore.”
In just 10 years, Shaw has seen a shift in the minds and morals of U.S. consumers. In an era where many consider the small farmer a friend and large factories a foe, Shaw’s “nothing packaged” philosophy of eating is praised, not condemned.
Shaw, a former restaurant cook and political reporter, fishes, forages and hunts nearly everything he eats. Now in his new career, he’s dedicated to teaching others to do the same.
“I think Americans are starting to get it — that this is a legitimate way to go about feeding yourself and your family,” Shaw said.
His latest book, “Buck, Buck, Moose,” is a cover-to-cover tutorial on nose-to-tail cooking for deer, elk, moose “and other antlered things.” There are instructions for butchering the animal and there are recipes for the meat — from pirogi to Greek dolmades.
But behind the mouthwatering meals and Pinterest-worthy photography is an important message.
““It’s the old, ‘You broke it, you bought it,’” said Shaw about his reasoning for teaching readers to use the whole animal — from the neck to the liver.
“Something died that you can eat. And that’s kind of heavy, you know. When you put an animal on the ground, it’s not something to be taken lightly, and so it’s extremely important to use as much of that animal as is possible.”
In recent years, whole-animal butchery has become more common in the food industry. In the D.C. area, Red Apron Butchery, Society Fair and Urban Butcher break down and serve the whole animal. Shaw said an increased desire to eat ethically has helped to support this trend.
“Pigs and deer and chickens … they’re not all breast meat, they’re not all chops, they’re not all tenderloins. More people are aware that a pig or a deer or something like that has other parts to it, too. And food has to think good, as well as taste good,” he said.
Therefore, when a diner orders crispy-fried pig tails or shanks, it’s just as much of a political statement as it is a culinary one.
“There’s an increasing awareness that that’s one little thing you can do to combat food waste and to promote farmers or people who are obtaining their food in an ethical way,” said Shaw, who started hunting 16 years ago.
With an uptick in interest in foraging and hunting from young, urban dwellers, Shaw’s cookbook is the adventurous home cook’s companion on how to enjoy every part of an antlered animal.
For those new to the concept of cooking something other than prepackaged chicken, Shaw said venison is a great place to start. The meat is mild and versatile — he compares it to bison or grass-fed beef.
One of Shaw’s favorite recipes in the book is the barbacoa, which he makes from the front shoulders of the deer. The stewed meat can be served in tacos, burritos or over rice with a mole sauce.
“That’s a recipe I use all the time as a jumping off point for whatever Mexican dish I am exploring at the moment,” said Shaw, who in addition to “Buck, Buck, Moose” has two other cookbooks and a podcast.
Despite spending 19 years covering state and national politics for newspapers across the country, Shaw said he prefers to stay away from politics these days. He lets his plate do the talking.
“I guess after covering actual politics, I’m tired and I just want to show people what you can do with game and fish and foraged stuff. And if that’s political, then so be it.”