I recently learned about the work of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) through one my favorite author/outdoorsman, Steven Rinella. Perusing the MeatEater website I saw the videos Rinella did in partnership with TRCP “Conservation Field Notes.” You can view them here. They are well-shot, impassioned and detailed. TRCP’s mission “Guaranteeing you a place to hunt and fish” aligns tightly on public policy that will effect our rights as anglers and hunters in an increasingly contentious, anti-environment government. I feel strongly that the Obama administration and Congress isn’t doing nearly enough in this area to protect what I think are inalienable public access rights being chewed-up by the 1%. Nor are they looking long-term at the environmental benefits inherent in protecting access.
The TRCP has also created a short series called TRCP’s Native Trout Adventures. Joel Webster, Director of TRCP Center for Western Lands travels across the west fishing native trout fisheries with policymakers, environmentalists, and fish and game officials to shine a light on how precious and varied our native trout is. Along with some beautiful fly fishing, the webisodes explain the various initiatives the TRCP is involved in to protect and restore native trout populations. I had never even heard of the Redband trout or that there was a species of sea-run cut-throat. I was particularly thrilled to learn about the Roadless Areas initiative which keeps development in check in crucial habitat. And thrilled to learn that I could help by supporting the TRCP. I’m now pondering a serious cross-country, multi-year trip to fish for every last one of America’s native trout.
I draw a tremendous amount of inspiration from author, hunter and conservationist, Steven Rinella. Rinella is the author of The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine and American Buffalo: In Seach of a Lost Icon. Like another modern-day subsistence hunter I know, Jackson Landers, Rinella has turned his great passion of the outdoors into a media career–he has hosted the Travel Channel’s The Wild Within, and now is the host of MeatEater on the Sportsman’s Channel. In MeatEater, Rinella’s goal is to focus on hunting and gathering from the cook’s perspective.
I’ve met and spoke with Rinella a couple times now and find him to be affable, humble, and smart man, plus, he’s got midwest roots like me but lives just around the corner in Brooklyn. Sadly, Time Warner doesn’t carry the Sportsman’s Channel, but New Yorkers can see exerpts from his new show on the MeatEater website. FYI, the show is produced by Zero Point Zero Productions the same folk behind The Wild Within and Tony Bourdain’s hit shows No Reservations, The Layover, and David Chang’s foodie magazine Lucky Peach. I won’t go into it here–but ZPZ are also behind the killer app, Pat Lafrieda’s Big App for Meat. Quality!!
I’ve no doubt I’ll be tuning in online to MeatEater the moment they get their Youtube channel up and running (hint-hint). My bro recently launched his cured meats biz in DC and I’m hoping to become one of his suppliers this year… In fact, a memorable quote stands out from Rinella’s conversation with another food hero of mine, Michael Rulhman. “Being a better chef, is being a better hunter.”
Yet, it was a quiet, reserved, young man in the back of the room, manning reception, that caught my attention and whose struggle would surely sway you. At the end of the speeches, TU volunteer Ben Blakely appeared to be soaking it in. Something in his look said–don’t worry, we can win this thing. This was the final stop of TU’s Save Bristol Bay tour and Ben had been with these guys from the beginning, two weeks ago in Portland to Denver all the way to New York City. By looking at him, you wouldn’t think he possessed a maturity beyond his years, that this young man captained a commercial fishing vessel in Bristol Bay, that he was part of a family of fishermen who catch and process part of the 40 million wild salmon that are part of the Bristol Bay fishery. When you looked at him, with his hopeful smile and shy demeanor, you wouldn’t guess that his way of life and his home was so…threatened.
“Coming on this trip, I realized just how many people eat Bristol Bay salmon.” This year, Ben volunteered to join TU’s campaign and left behind his ship, the N20 (not an “exciting” name he says as he pointing it out in a National Geographic article in the Dec 2010 issue) to travel across the country and bring word of the impending disaster that is Pebble Mine. The proposed open pit mine that would devastate the land, eradicate wildlife and violate the Bristol Bay and its surrounds in search for gold, copper and molybdenum.
Ben told me that sometimes he feels, “just a bit selfish,” because he sees that people are coming out in droves to TU’s events to protest Pebble Mine, and support his way of life, his family’s livelihood (his father runs a processing plant and his siblings work in the business in some way). Ben has come to learn what every man eventually learns, that there are in fact, “greedy individuals” out there (as Paul Greenberg calls them), who in their pursuit of profits, are willing to take from others.
What makes Bristol Bay so special of course, is that it is indeed “the last wild food” according to Greenberg. Something like 30-40% of Alaskan salmon are hatchery-supported, but Bristol bay produces forty million WILD salmon. Maybe it should be a “strategic food reserve” as Greenberg suggested. Perhaps the Blakely family are not just fishermen, but soldiers, protecting a vital resource that nature has saw fit to make available and sustainable…if only we would leave it alone and just protect it.
Anglo American, with that oh so very ironic name, is the world’s largest diversified mining company, has spent hundreds of thousands, even millions on permits to mine the Bristol Bay watershed, and yet, like the “great white hunter” are eager to convince the natives that it would be great for the local economy while they rape the land. They don’t seem to realize that the 600 million dollar fishery provides 40% of the salmon we consume. As Greenberg says, its all very confusing how we love to eat salmon and yet, “we hate salmon, the way we treat it.”
“We have a very strong chance we will stop the mine,” says Ben, with an optimistic twinkle in his eye. He’s counting, it seems, not just on the beautiful images of the bay, the bucket-list dreams of anglers around the world, the deep pockets of New York’s elite conservationists, but also the fact that we will remember that there are people on the other side of this thing.
“Red Gold (about Bristol Bay salmon) is not just a poster child of one family. It’s many families.” When asked about Anglo American’s counter-marketing campaign, Ben remarks, “The marketing efforts have little science on their side, its purely emotional and it confuses the issue at hand.”
Still it seems this debate over Pebble Mine IS deeply emotional. “We have blocked the chi of the world (with dams),” says Greenberg, but Ben and his family seem to act only out of love. They donated salmon to the chefs for this event. Mike Kowalski, CEO of Tiffany & Co, said, “the truth is, we believe we’re acting on our shareholders desires…There are certain values that exceed the value of gold.”
Tiffany & Co are signatories to the Bristol Bay Protection Pledge. Earlier Kowalski candidly admitted to me he was disappointed that even more jewelry companies hadn’t stepped-up and made a commitment (more than a dozen have so far, but De Beers is notably absent), but he expressed hope. He reiterated, he himself as CEO, wasn’t being “bold” by signing the pledge, but rather, research showed the vast majority of Tiffany consumers shared his view. Still, it seemed he was taking it very personal.
So, I reiterate, this thing is indeed, emotional, for families, for shareholders and CEOs, for chefs and writers. It’s an emotion that is hard to pin-down but neatly surmised by chef Rick Moonen of rm seafood, a sustainable restaurant, “I don’t believe we should participate in any process that leads to the extinction of a species.”
We know now how it feels, and it sucks. Somehow, after all the lessons of history, after BP, after Exxon Valdez, after mountain-top removal and the extinction of Atlantic salmon, we feel…like we can’t be complicit by our silence anymore. We feel like trusting in our human capacity to love and protect the land, we feel like doing the right thing, as Ben is doing.
Saying no to Pebble Mine is a greater battle than for metal or flesh. It turns out, this is a battle for our values. Ben’s quiet determination and confidence to say no to Pebble Mine, to take a stand against greedy people who would make extinct the values that drive his entire family, indeed a community of fishermen to make a sustainable living from the land, is a call-to-action to preserve our humanity. Ben makes it clear, “when I’m not fishing, I couldn’t think of a better use of my time.”
I bumped into Brooklyn-based writer, Steven Rinella, and host of The Wild Within the other day and had to tell him how much I enjoyed his show. I mean, not many TV hosts have the skills to break down an entire Moose that they have stalked and shot in ten minutes of onscreen footage…or climb a highway underpass to retrieve pigeon eggs and serve ’em up over a campfire for dinner. This man, is authentic, the real-deal–a hunter, trapper and writer who tells it as it is.
Lately, along with my fishing habits, I’ve been thinking about “authenticity” in television and advertising and while I’m happy the ad-guys are at-least “on-trend”, I can’t help but think that the underdog artisan, the hunter-gatherer, the farmer, the mechanic, their voices aren’t often heard from in mainstream media. So, I figured it was time for another installment of my Film CRAFT series, where I feature American artisans keeping the spirit of “handmade” alive and well.
Best Made Co. “You put an axe in someone’s hand and they feel empowered.”
This last video is actually a full half hour high production value, branded documentary by Bombay Sapphire, called The Culture of Quality: The Artisan’s Journey. I’ve written about the role of branded documentaries before, and on my marketing blog, but just a reminder–the goal here is to market the product using authentic, real stories–not fictional ones, like in most story-based advertising. Product claims aren’t shouted–rather, product benefits and brand equities are placed alongside the real stories of people who use the product, fit the brand image or have similar missions, are often the subject matter. The Culture of Quality features interviews with some of the people behind bespoke brands, Barking Irons, DS&Durga, and Vosges Chocolates, as well some excellent drink preparations and gin history. It ends with a mixology contest featuring the storied gin. Damn, I’m thirsty!