East Texas Blues: Thoughts on Hunting, Culture, and Veganism


I just spent the Thanksgiving holidays in East Texas. Saying what I’m about to say could get me kicked out of Texas, but here it is: the Piney Woods, in their way, are the embodiment of all that’s wrong with much of rural America. The landscape, which is marked at times by stunning beauty, is more noticeably pocked with decrepit trailers and long-exhausted cars. The above-board industry is the timber mill while the more entrepreneurial economy hums underground, feeding the booming demand for crystal meth. Housing projects surround the local high school and people at the local grocery, situated just behind the tired-looking football stadium, seem haggard and worked-over. Internet signals are a flash in the pan. Roads are unpaved and confederate flags are iconic. The only behavior that I see having any ameliorative impact on the collective culture of East Texas, the only human expression that I see giving any hope to people whose lives are clearly defined by struggle, is one of bloody aggression. People here hunt.

I’m well aware that people hunt everywhere there’s anything to hunt. But it’s different in East Texas. It’s in the blood of this place. The actual act of killing a deer or a boar or a duck is only the smallest part of the perceived pleasure. The deeper fulfillment comes in the accessories–which, if you own enough of them, add up to a way of life: the truck, the tires on the truck, the mud on the tires of the truck, the cammo attire, the buck knife on the hip, the bright orange cap, the plug of chew, the case of beer, the pack of cigarettes, the banter, and the unfortunate animal tied to the rack after a day of shooting-the-shit with your old high school buddies while ensconced in a deer blind. I absorbed these images. I caught inflections of these stories, smelled the tobacco, listened to the rumble of the trucks, and bore sad witness to the pulpy results of the hunt over a long weekend, a hunting weekend, in East Texas. Then I found myself sitting at stoplight wondering about a question every vegan advocate has been forced to contemplate: is there hope? I’ve written a pile of words about why it is wrong to exploit animals. But, as I looked around East Texas, it occurred to me–to take away hunting would be take away East Texas. My words would be a pile indeed–a pile of shit. I was awoken from my reverie with a honk.

There’s no doubt where I stand on this matter. No form of cultural expression can even remotely justify the senseless brutality of hunting. I continually wonder: what kind of man gets his rocks off by blowing away an animal for no reason?  But no matter: my recognition of the cultural depth of this act (when I returned to Austin I had to endure three stories about people who had shot deer over the weekend) reminded me that those of us who, through whatever action we take, fight for the benefit of the voiceless, should steel ourselves for a cold truth. Change will come. This I believe.  But (for those who live in sophisticated urban centers with large populations of enlightened vegans this will be harder to accept): we shouldn’t plan to see much of it in our lifetimes. I say this not to be gloomy or self-pitying, but–really-to remind myself that the piles of words I’m dumping out now might someday join others to lay a foundation for a world that extends justice and compassion to all animals. In the meantime, all we have is our inner voice telling us to keep pounding away at what we know to be true.


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

3 Responses to East Texas Blues: Thoughts on Hunting, Culture, and Veganism

  1. Keith Akers says:

    Uh, “peak oil.”

    Massive social changes are coming soon because we have hit the limits to growth. East Texas will not be exempt from these changes. All the accessories to the “hunter mentality” which you cite are now dependent on oil — the truck, the tires, the ammo, even the tobacco.

    It’s ironic that the modern oil industry first really took off in East Texas. Our economy runs on oil; yet despite record high oil prices, the oil industry is straining to maintain the current level of oil supplies. This lack of increase is largely behind the 2008 near-collapse of the economy and the failure of the current recovery. Most likely, in two to five years oil supplies will turn from a plateau into a decline. Because our economy depends on growth, the collapse of the financial system and social and political chaos are all on the table. You and I will likely see it all in our lifetimes.

    There is a whole community of people (the “energy descent” community) which is actively trying to unpack what all of this means. Vegans (with a few noteworthy exceptions) have largely stayed out of this discussion. That’s unfortunate, because agriculture is the single area of our lives most likely to be affected by peak oil. Today’s agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels (among other things). It’s very likely that we’ll see a dramatic upsurge of veganism.

    You’re a historian, so you’re in an ideal place to understand how this is likely to unfold. The vegan community and the energy descent community need to be talking to each other. Call me if you have any questions. I’m in the phone book.

  2. evervescence says:

    Thanksgiving is a trying time for any vegan, but put yourself in small hunting town and it’s bound to be that much more so. I used to work for a Sporting Good’s retailer that focused on hunting and accessories and I wasn’t even vegetarian at the time and it was difficult for me being surrounded by the decor made from animal remains on every wall, and hearing the constant talk of hunting and fishing, also knowing my paychecks were coming partly from people buying those things to kill with. (I’m grateful I no longer work for that company.) It’s even more difficult to stomach this kind of thing when you see entire sub-cultures that revolve around that as a joy in their otherwise lacking lives. I will never understand finding joy in taking a life.

    I have a hard time maintaining hope too, and as much as it saddens me that we might not see the big changes in our lifetime, I am grateful for what change I do see, and that I know I am living my truth and doing what I can where I can to inspire others to make changes. I think Ken Ackers is correct, the peak oil (situation/crisis? not sure what to call it) will certainly force change. It is something I am well aware of, though I fear the change it will bring will be more devastating than good, as people will demand we get oil from more and more environmentally vulnerable places destroying what is left of the natural world in the process. It seem’s people will do anything to hold onto their way of life, even if that way of life is destroying the environment and in the case of factory farms subjecting animals to intolerable cruelty. (I do not understand what people are so afraid of, they should fear what the ARE doing more than what they aren’t when it comes to factory farming in my opinion.) I think you know as well as I do that if more people had to face the cruelty of factory farms they would not endorse them, but the veil is great–and with stores, restaurants and a way of life centering around the food products resulting from factory farms, communities that still hunt for fun (the list goes on and on,) it weighs heavy on me. The outlook for change is bleak.

    We just have to keep moving forward and doing our part. Change doesn’t come easy, or quickly but the good news is that it IS happening, slowly but surely, so together we can make our voices heard and help inspire others to awaken to a more compassion life.

  3. Debra says:

    Oh, sometimes I wish you didn’t nail your subject matter quite so well…But each choice we make, each action we take and word we write for the animals *will* add up. And I do believe that the choices we make now can *help* now. This is when I like to remind myself of Ghandi’s quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” They’re fighting…and that means we’re closer than we’ve ever been.

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