restricted access Notes from a Nonnative Daughter
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Notes from a Nonnative Daughter
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The hunters do not trust me. Not even after I drive three hours down from northwest Georgia, offer beer from my cooler, and stow my sleeping bag in a trailer at their camp. They believe I am an undercover animal-rights activist, and no matter how much I insist on my desire to eat hunted boar, they maintain their guard. I’ve told them I want to write about the non-native hogs that ravage the southeastern United States and will rely on their expertise to do it. “We’ll see what you write,” they say. “We’ll see.”

The United States Department of Agriculture defines an “alien species” [End Page 32] as “any species, including its seeds, spores or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to [the] ecosystem.” Within this broad category, the agency is most concerned with those species whose introduction into a biological community will “cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Such species—including the hogs I’ve come to look for—are labeled invasive.

On a chilly March night, sometime after midnight, I shiver in a tree stand above a Middle Georgia swamp, full of both hope and fear that I might encounter Sus scrofa. In the South, where I now live, but where I am not a native, these beasts are called by many names: feral hog, wild pig, wild Russian boar, razorback, Old World swine. Their possible origins are as varied as their names; hogs were introduced to what is now the southeastern United States by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, but today’s hogs might also be descended from wild Russian or Eurasian boar imported illegally and released for trophy hunting in the early twentieth century. During the Depression, many struggling southerners abandoned family farms, and their pigs ran wild. These swine have been rutting for decades, and all hogs are the same species, so the populations are hard to distinguish. Sportsmen take special pride in killing Eurasian boar, and hunting magazines have emphasized false differences, such as the myth that pure wild boar have solid black coats, as John J. Mayer and I. Lehr Brisbin note in a 1991 research review. They discuss morphological traits that might actually help separate the boar from the hogs, such as their “underfur coloration” and the shape of their skulls. (Mayer and Brisbin went on to write the book on this subject: Wild Pigs in the United States.)

I do not come from a family that hunts, and those tree-stand hours leave me cold and restless. Hunting meat and eating hog do not belong in the traditional Jewish experience. Our religious laws consider the wild an unholy location for slaughter. Animals such as hogs, which do not ruminate, or chew their food, will make us unclean if we consume them. More than one southerner has expressed surprise when, out to dinner, I delightedly order hog jowls or braised pork tacos. My family has never kept kosher, but the Jewish past, like any past, is more than capable of trampling on the present. When I wanted a whole-roasted hog at my wedding, my parents protested, insisting that I shouldn’t serve food that would make family feel unwelcome.

The day before the hunt, as I drove toward camp to meet my guides, the houses were small and the lots large. Only four months after the 2012 election, I expected the same assortment of NObama! signs that remain—defiant of actual results—in the North Georgia county where I live. Homeowners here too shout from their yards, but the most common signs support not Mitt Romney, but Israel.

Later, the smoke from a pine fire stinging my eyes, I ask the hunters about this. We’re waiting for a guy to bring corn so we can bait the swamp for tomorrow’s hunt, and the camp is far enough back from the paved road that his headlights, [End Page 33] when they light up the sandy drive, will be the only vehicle we’ve seen or heard all evening. From the...