Georgia Pellegrini is a trailblazer in more ways than one. The accomplished chef, author and outdoorswoman has cemented her spot as spokesperson for the new age of hunting and gathering, introducing the ideals and practices to folks who would otherwise have no idea what it means to understand what we eat, where it came from and what it experienced before it reached our dinner plate.
Wide Open Spaces sat down with Pellegrini to talk about hunting, cooking and her new book that will hit stores next year. Needless to say, hers is a story worth paying attention to.
Pellegrini was raised in upstate New York, in the Hudson River Valley, on the very same land that her great grandfather lived on. Honeybees, chickens, fresh vegetables and wild game were abundant, and she developed what she called a “visceral, deep connection to the place I was living.”
Of course, as many people do, she grew up and pursued her calling, which at the time involved becoming a financial analyst for Lehman’s in New York City.
The job helped Pellegrini realize that she needed more out of her career. “I think the silver lining when you’re doing something that doesn’t quite fit who you are is that it forces you to figure out what you’re doing when you’re happiest,” she said. “And for me it always came back to food and cooking and staying in touch with my roots.”
“I call it manual literacy,” she explained, “and for me that means being connected with the rhythms of nature, and I was really looking for a way to get back to that.”
She took a leap of faith by enrolling in culinary school, which led to jobs at restaurants in New York City and France. She loved it, but was still missing exactly what she was looking for.
At one of the restaurants she worked at, she was tasked with killing and butchering turkeys, which served as a milestone marker in her decision to learn how to hunt, instead of becoming a vegan, which was the first thought to cross her mind.
“It was a very transformative, sort of watershed moment to take the life of an animal, and hold it in my arms while it struggled and took its last breath,” Pellegrini said. She decided, then and there, that she wanted to “pay the full price of the meal.”
Her time spent in the restaurant business helped lay the groundwork for her first book, Food Heroes: Sixteen Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition in 2010. It focused on folks who were doing their part to preserve the features of cooking and eating that had become so important to her, like a New York mushroom forager and a French fig collector.
In a way, the book was Pellegrini’s response to the tendency for people to settle for additive-filled, cruelly-butchered, store-bought and pre-packaged food from a grocery store’s meat department, far removed from any in-depth knowledge of what those processes truly involved. According to Pellegrini, it has dulled our senses, culled our tastes and decreased our involvement in the food we eat.
“I think that’s really unfortunate,” she said, “but also really dangerous that our society’s gotten to that point.”
“I think our palates have become almost neutered,” she added. “We want every piece of beef to taste exactly the same as the last piece of beef, and every chicken breast taste the same.” For her, it was about shifting expectations of what food tastes like.
“At the end of the day, there’s got to be a way to get back in touch with what’s real and lasting, versus what’s fake and manufactured,” Pellegrini said.
And that, as she puts it, was the beginning of the journey. Her second book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, garnered more attention and moved Pellegrini into the household name category.
Why was it received so positively? “I think, perhaps because I’m not the typical messenger, or maybe because I am the right messenger,” assumed Pellegrini.
That led to her latest book, Modern Pioneering: More Than 150 Recipes, Projects, and Skills for a Self-Sufficient Life, which reiterates her idea of manual literacy.
Modern Pioneering will be available March 4, 2014, and represent Pellegrini’s branching out process, which includes home décor, self-sufficiency and the reuse of specific items for alternative means.
Maybe someone doesn’t want to shoot, skin and butcher a deer, but Pellegrini believes they may want to grow tomatoes on their small patio, or reuse red wine by making popsicles, just to name a few of the projects included in the book.
You can preorder Modern Pioneering here.
In addition to her books, website and social media presence, Pellegrini also hosts Adventure Getaways, which present opportunities for people to take part in the many aspects of manual literacy. The Adventure Getaways have taken Pellegrini to the Arkansas Delta, the prairies of Montana and numerous other destinations. People leave these Getaways a new person, she says, which is exactly the intention.
“My goal is really to just live my life and show by doing, but also be able to give people ways to access that life as well in ways that work for them,” said Pellegrini. “Everyone’s going to have their own roadmap.”
HBO sent a crew to one of her Adventure Getaways, and will air the footage in an upcoming episode of Real Sports. The New York Times Magazine joined her on one for a story as well.
Every weekend is different, and more information can be found on Pellegrini’s website on the Adventure Getaways tab. Events fill up fast, but new ones are added frequently.
When asked about her role models, Pellegrini referred to the older women in her life as inspirations. “They were fearless,” she said. “They taught me a love of food, and an understanding of the land… They could grasp satisfaction from simpler, more pure, more fundamental things like family and fellowship.” Those folks, she said, are the ones she wants to be when she grows up.
The question was reversed, and Pellegrini spoke about her own role model position. “It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, because I didn’t get into this expecting to be one,” she said. This “tremendous responsibility” is something that she takes very seriously, and she has taken it upon herself to give young women something to aspire to and feel fearless about.
“How do we get that Amazonian look in our eyes, in small ways?” she asked. “You can be distinctly female and still be in that world. You don’t have to become a man.”
“My goal is to create a safe space for them to try things, to fail, to succeed, to laugh really hard in the process and not take themselves too seriously,” Pellegrini said. “That feeling of being excited and enthralled when you do something outside of your comfort zone is addictive, and that’s all I need to do, is to give them that and encourage them in the process.”
Though nothing is official, talks of a television show have come up in the Pellegrini camp, and the basis has more or less been determined: “It would probably be a show developed around this outdoor adventure, empowerment, female, girl power, pioneer skills, with some hunting mixed in kind of lifestyle,” she said.
If the past and present are any indication, Pellegrini’s future holds more opportunities to “take on nature and interact with it,” as she so eloquently puts it. We’ll be paying attention, and you should too.
Featured image via GeorgiaPellegrini.com