Hunting Was Easy (Apr 1993)

My great grandad Vincent Kost was an excellent marksman, and he shot all the game Grandma needed to feed her customers at her Hotel and Trading Post in Aklavik, NWT. In the north, soil conditions and a short growing season make fruits and vegetables very expensive, so shooting animals for food is a way of life. The elders realized that if this valuable resource was not looked after, the community would die. So ritual and ceremonies were developed to honor the death of each animal and the reverence bestowed by the hunter balanced out the need to survive. One day when my Mother’s book is published, you can read about the incredible story of the Great Reindeer Trek and the indomitable men who risked their lives so that live food could be made available to the people of the North.

After the death of Mary Kost, Grandad moved back to the Peace River Valley with his brothers and was delighted to hear that my Mom and Dad wanted to homestead in Canada. On the long trip from Michigan we made a detour through Alberta, where we
got a chance to meet some real Indians, learned how they caught fish, met an eighty-year-old Indian woman who had never sat on a chair, and almost sold brother Billy to an Indian chief for $2.00, for he thought Billy would make a fine brave. If it had not been for Grandad’s guidance, energy and love I don’t think my parents would have survived as long as they did in the remote area of BC called Rosswood where we eventually settled. Learning to provide food and shelter for a family of ten without electricity, running water, telephones or a nearby store fulfilled a dream of my Mother’s and taught us kids self-sufficiency.

On this month’s front cover is a picture of me (far left) and five of my six brothers, inspecting moose and goat hides that are stretched out for tanning. The highlight of the year seemed to be late fall when my older brothers, Dad, Grandad and even my Mom went for long hike up Mount Goaty to get a goat. I usually stayed home and cared for the younger boys as I did not appreciate the thrill of the kill.

Canoeing up the Beaver River for two or three days to shot a moose seemed well worth the effort to my older brothers and Dad. If the hunt was successful, and it usually was, they could brag about it for weeks, especially if they had seen more than one moose, or the weather had turned suddenly cold and rainy. Listening to their tales was fascinating, but it never encouraged me to want to go.

As a child it seemed a matter of survival that we got our annual supply of moose, goat and geese. I became an expert at plucking feathers, for goose down made excellent sleeping bags. The nights got very cold when you have only wood heat.

Living in the wilderness, I got to visit with many of the wild animals, including a baby moose. There is a picture of it in the story by Sister Tiny on page 8, one of the nuns that visited us regularly. We fed a baby bear for a week till the forest warden came and took it. We assumed that the mother of both the bear and the moose had been killed by hunters of one kind or another.

When a baby lynx jumped against my legs wanting to play with me on the way to school one fine spring day, I wanted to play too, but all I could hear was Grandad’s voice in my head warning me “Where there is a cub, there is usually a mother.” So instead, I jumped on my bike and hollered as loud as I could, hoping to scare the baby away. It worked well and I discovered that most wild animals were more scared of me than I of them, including a big ol’ black bear that I met when berry picking. We were picking on opposite sides of a long row of raspberries that were semi-wild, and we both arrived at the end of the row at the same time,The bear and I looked at each other and we both ran as far and as fast as possible in the opposite direction. The wolves that checked out the pig-pen in the winter and the coyotes that loved eating our chickens seemed part of everyday life, so I learned not to wander to far by myself, especially at night.

I remember the delight I felt at being allowed to walk the trap line with Grandad. I was nine or ten years old at the time. As we made the rounds, we spotted a beautiful lynx sitting in a tree, paws crossed looking placidly at us. It never snarled or even showed it’s teeth while Grandad raised his gun and shot him; for its foot was caught in a trap. Watching the lynx die was a very humbling experience for me and thinking about itstill brings tears to my eyes.

We were told not to give names to the animals or become attached to them but that was difficult, especially with the ones that had a personality. I started to resent eating the animals, and my stomach didn’t work properly if I knew who I was eating.

Married at seventeen, I was shocked to realized that my new husband didn’t know how to hunt. I didn’t understand how anyone could be a Dad and feed his family if he couldn’t hunt. My brothers helped out and took him hunting, and soon he was bringing home the meat, and I was happy.

As my boys grew bigger, I raised chickens and turkeys. It never bothered me to kill the chickens, but the turkeys were a different story. I discovered I had gotten very attached to them for they are very intelligent, and loving in a way that is hard to describe. It took a lot of time to care for them for they were more prone to hurting themselves then the chickens. But winter was coming and dry feed was very expensive, so they had to be killed. I started to hate plucking feathers.

At about the same time I fell in love with one of the Banty hens. She had served me well and raised many batches of baby chicks, not only her own but for some of the other hens as well. That fall, I decided she wouldn’t make a good stewing hen and as pay back for her years of faithful mothering, I would feed her knowing she wouldn’t lay her share of eggs to pay for her keep. She died that winter when the weather turned very cold for she very old for a chicken.

After that I tried buying chickens in the store but the taste wasn’t the same. I found a local farmer and ordered in my supply of fresh chickens and turkeys once a year and a side order of beef if the deer was small or the hunt unsuccessful. At that time in my life, I thought it was necessary to feed my family meat or they wouldn’t grow up and be healthy. I had come from a long line of meat-and-potato eaters, but I was finding it increasing difficult to digest food, especially beef.

When my husband and I left Terrace and moved to Summerland in 1980, I met a lady who was a vegetarian. This interested me as she had children the same age as mine and they seemed normal. I visited the family several times just to make sure and it was a revelation … children could be healthy being raised on just grains and vegetables. Slowly I cut back on buying meat, even though my boys were growing and eating more. Roast was served only on special occasions, stews started having more vegetables and the spaghetti sauce had a little less ground beef each time. I encouraged my husband to buy a camera so he could still shoot the animals he saw without killing them, but he enjoyed the long hikes in the woods with his men friends, and he was hooked on hunting.

I started experimenting with different recipes and soon learned that my family did not appreciate my new style of cooking. To keep harmony in the family I used meat every other day in at least one meal, but no longer did we have bacon for breakfast and a meat loaf for dinner in the same day. Starting in 1985, I cooked meat for the family but didn’t eat it myself for I wanted to experiment and see how the change felt. I discovered I felt great and was assimilating my food better. I told my husband that if he wanted to eat meat he could learn to cook. We had lots of barbecues but learning to operate the stove was not to his liking.

I was delighted to discover that I could survive without eating meat. I devoured many books on the subject and took a few cooking classes. In 1987 I read Diet for a New America by John Robbins and decided I could no longer support the meat industry .I stopped buying meat altogether, even though it was organic meat purchased locally. My family didn’t understand why I had changed their diet and wanted the ol’ Angele back to cook for them. I discovered that familiar foods and love seemed to be interconnected.

Today, I am so thankful to have found like-minded souls that share my concern for the planet and their bodies. I am glad I have seen through the propaganda taught to our parents and now us by the meat industry, and I am delighted to be reprogrammed, for my belief that we need meat to survive was deeply ingrained. My meals now are much more simple, delicious, with the variety far greater and nutritious than I ever could have imagined. I enjoy the ritual of eating and being able to share my food with others is a profound experience that shapes my life.

Becoming a vegetarian has changed me in many ways, for which I am eternally grateful.My brothers still think I’m a little weird, my mother who supports me 100% in everything I do has switched over almost completely, my husband found a woman who likes to cook and eat meat, and my kids, well …. they respect my need to not kill an animal, so we go to vegetarian restaurants when I visit them.