Saturday, February 12, 2011

American Buffalo

Recently picked up American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) at a discount bookstore.  While the word buffalo is taxonomically incorrect, they're not related to the true buffalo of Africa and Asia, the word has stuck even though sticklers insist on bison (Bison bison) - there is a European bison, by the way, called the wisent (Bison bonasus).

I love bison, have read a fair bit about them, and there's something special about seeing a herd of bison grazing on the western prairie.  The book, however, was very different from what I expected.  Rinella's wrote a hunting story centered around his winning a lottery to hunt a bison along the Chetaslina River in the Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness Area of Alaska (bison were reintroduced into Alaska in the early 20th century).

The story of Rinella's hunt is woven through the book with a very graphic description of his butchering the kill (not for those squeamish about such things).  Interspersed between is information about the natural history of bison, the history of bison hunting and their near extinction, and stories of the Native American's relationships with bison.

The book works.  Rinella is a correspondent for Outside magazine and he writes a compelling story.  While those morally opposed to killing animals, even for consumption, will not like this book, I rather enjoyed reading it (I also eat meat and have no qualms against hunting for food). 

I also saw that Rinella wrote a book called The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine which looked interesting after reading the Amazon reviews (click on the link above).  I plan on reading that one as well.

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