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West Virginia well ahead of locavore trend

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- According to Wikipedia, a "locavore" is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced.

I have another definition for the term: West Virginians.

Tomorrow, more than 150,000 Mountain State residents will take to the woods, each hoping to bring home the ultimate in locally produced food - venison from a freshly killed white-tailed deer.

If the season goes as expected, hunters will carry home close to 5 million pounds of high-protein, low-fat, antibiotic-free, steroid-free meat, and almost all of it will have come practically from their backyards.

Curtis Taylor, wildlife resources chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, chuckles at the idea that environmentally conscious people throughout the country are embracing the so-called "locavore lifestyle.

"I was at a meeting recently where they talked about this 'hot new trend,'" Taylor recalled. "I just busted out laughing. I said, 'Shoot, I've been a locavore my entire life, and so have thousands of West Virginians.' "

Taylor, a native of McDowell County, grew up eating squirrels, rabbits, grouse and deer harvested from the hills near Welch.

"I still eat that way," he said. "I like to put at least four deer in the freezer every year, plus a turkey or two and several messes of squirrels."

The locavore movement sprang from people's desire to lessen their environmental "footprint." They reckoned that if they ate food grown within 50 to 100 miles of their homes, they'd lessen the amount of fuel used to truck groceries from place to place.

Locavores have contributed to the popularity of farmers markets. Some locavores have gone so far as to begin gardening, raising livestock or hunting.

For a while, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg famously vowed he would eat meat only if he killed the animal himself. He has since resumed eating store-bought meat, but reportedly adheres to a mostly locavore lifestyle.

Later this week, West Virginians will sit down to their Thanksgiving dinners. Many of the turkeys they eat will have been grown somewhere within the state. A lot of the vegetables they pile around the slices of turkey will have been harvested from their own backyard gardens and canned for later use.

After all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, thousands of those same West Virginians will reach into their freezers and begin consuming the venison they brought home from their deer hunts.

In other corners of their freezers, they might have stashed a wild turkey or two, a few wild ducks, a couple of grouse, several squirrels, and perhaps even meat from a bear or wild boar.

Whether they know it or not, those West Virginians are living a lifestyle that, anywhere on either coast, would earn them accolades for being so environmentally responsible. And if they're like me, they probably hadn't even heard the term "locavore" until recently.

According to Merriam-Webster Online, the word was coined in 2005 by Jessica Prentice, a Berkeley, Calif., author and chef, who used it in a piece she wrote for that year's World Environment Day.

West Virginians might not throw the term around, or even be familiar with it, but they don't have to be. They live it.


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