Hank Shaw, At the Head of the Table
By Ashley Robinson
Sacramento’s own Hank Shaw is the brains behind, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, a nationally recognized blog focusing on his “wanderings in the edible world, from fishing to hunting to foraging and gardening.” He takes readers along in his adventures, shares some awesome recipes and very candidly reflects on the trials and tribulations of each dish.
As someone who is not a hunter and is somewhat against the sport – as just a sport (“Bambi” made a huge impact, damn you Walt Disney), I find Hank’s take on hunting and fishing particularly significant. For him, it’s not a just a recreational activity, it’s prizing the animal for what it has to offer and respecting the life it has given. And then making really good food from it. When compared to buying some headless frozen juiced-up chicken from some giant factory, Hank’s way of life looks pretty special.
And that’s why I keep going back to his blog. It’s refreshing.
You can meet Hank at a talk he is giving at Cafe Bernardo Midtown on Saturday, June 11 at 10 a.m., as well as the book launch party at Grange Thursday, June 16. Check out his blog for more details.
From a hotel room in some flyover state, Hank answered a couple of questions I had….
Hank, your book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” just came out. Yay! Tell us about it in seven words (and not the seven in your title). Ok, you can take 140 characters.
The book is a foodie’s guide to the wild: Part cookbook, part field guide, part memoir. It is about helping to reawaken our knowledge of nature’s bounty, which is all around us.
I know that you originally hail from the East Coast and lived in Minnesota, but you have lived here in NorCal for a while. Tell us what role the Sacramento region specifically played in defining the experiences of your book.
Sacramento is my home now, and it is my base for most of my current adventures in the wild, whether it’s fishing, foraging or hunting. Many of the hunting experiences I wrote about took place within 2 hours of Sacramento, and the chapter on shad is almost completely based on my fishing on the American River — Sacto has one of the best runs of this fish in the world. Most of the wild plants I write about grow nearby, too.
You have taken the “organic/local/sustainable” movement to a totally new level. How did you find yourself in this role, spearheading and connecting with others who seek honest food?
Forgive the pun, but it started organically. I’ve been fishing and foraging my whole life, and I love to cook for people. Once I started the blog in 2007, it gave me the chance to talk with more people, people from all over the world who share my love of the outdoors, and of cooking. I think what’s happened lately is that the trend/movement toward wild food has taken off, and I have been lucky enough to be recognized as a leader in that.
And how would you define this new … lifestyle? Would you call it a lifestyle?
At the level I am doing things, it is very much a lifestyle. Foraging, fishing and hunting — researching and cooking and writing — is now how I spend my days. But for most people it is more about a mindset than a life-altering decision. Most of the battle is the realization that wild food is out there, that if you do a minimal amount of research it is easy to identify and obtain, and that wild food can be more nutritious and tasty than domestic foods. I am hoping to help people become more open to nature’s bounty.
I read that Mark Zuckerberg is looking for the forgotten feast. I assume you sent him your book. What message did you write when you signed it for him? Or if you haven’t, you really should.
I have no idea where I would send the book, but I would be happy to take Mark Zuckerberg out fishing, foraging or hunting — if he gets his hunting license!
So, GOTG is a blog for urban dwelling women. What is the best advice you have for those of us with no hunting skills? What is the simplest first step? Where do we start? (Hank’s girl, Holly has her own blog talkin’ about hunting skills and shares Hank’s passion for the forgotten feast.)
For hunting? The first step is to go on a hunt as an observer, preferably several hunts. You really need to see hunting to see if it is for you. Not everyone can or wants to hunt their own meat. It is the most emotionally jarring of the pursuits I do, and you need to accept that eating meat means killing an animal. That can be a hurdle for some people. Then, on a strictly mechanical level, getting a hunting license takes some effort, and you need to learn to shoot, and buy gear. So start as an observer, then go from there.
And finally, if I wanted to cook up some Capitol Park squirrel, where should I forage in Midtown to get accoutrements for my dish?
I am assuming this is a theoretical question, because you’d get arrested if you went out shooting squirrels in the city. But in theory, there are olives in Capitol Park, gingko nuts, lots of wild greens (always forage away from manicured areas, which are often sprayed with pesticides), oranges, even some edible mushrooms when we get rain. If you go to the river, there is a smorgasbord of foods living along there. Sacramento can be nature’s larder — if you know where to look…