At first blush, Georgia Pellegrini seems an unlikely hunting advocate.
She grew up in a non-hunting family in New York's Hudson River Valley, went to a prestigious East Coast college and landed a job on Wall Street -- light-years from deer stands and duck blinds.
But as she recalls, "It was a life that nourished my bank account but never my soul.''
So she went to culinary school, became a chef, then -- to partake fully in her connection to food -- took up hunting in her mid-20s. Now, at 31, she's an author -- "Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the way we eat, one hunt at a time" -- a wild-game cooking celebrity who has appeared on national TV shows, runs a website and media company, and leads women on "girl-hunter weekends.''
She is among several national authors and healthy-eating advocates riding a cultural wave that argues hunting is a more honest, responsible and healthier way of getting meat.
"For me, it's paying the full price of a meal,'' said Pellegrini, who splits her time between Austin, Texas, and New York. "When you look your dinner in the eye and harvest it with your own hands, it's much more meaningful. You take it a lot more seriously. And it wasn't in a feedlot or a cage; it's healthier.''
She now hunts around the country -- pheasants in Montana, turkeys in Georgia, deer and hogs in Arkansas.
"It's a wonderful challenge as a chef and human being to participate in the cycle of life,'' she said. "It's a very eye-opening, life-changing thing.''
Pellegrini will be at Pheasants Forever's National Pheasant Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday to give wild game cooking demonstrations and to talk about her transition to a hunter.
Linking healthy food with hunting and habitat conservation makes sense, said Bob St. Pierre, Pheasants Forever vice president of marketing. And having non-conventional hunters such as Pellegrini spread that message could bring more people to hunting -- and to wildlife habitat conservation. It might even draw more members to conservation groups like his.
"Bird hunters are our core,'' St. Pierre said. "But only about 10 percent of pheasant hunters are members of Pheasants Forever. The 'foodies' are a group of folks that conservation groups haven't thought about before. But if you look at what brings people to hunting, food is one of those connectors.''
Many argue Americans have lost their connection to the land and to the source of their food. Others are concerned about the quality of that food. The growing popularity of home gardens, farmers' markets, grass-fed beef and free-range poultry is an offshoot of those concerns. Pellegrini and others argue that hunting is yet another option.
But wild animals need habitat, including clean water.
"To the general public, meat comes in a cellophane package they buy at the grocery,'' St. Pierre said. "They don't understand the connection the meat has to the animal, or the animal to the land. A group that understands it are hunters.
"Hunters see the animal from life to the dinner plate.''
Pellegrini sees it that way, too, now.
"I grew up fishing and foraging,'' she said, "I was very hands-on with my food. Hunting is a natural extension of being a chef. I wanted to procure my own ingredients.''
Sparking that interest years ago was an incident at a farm-to-table restaurant when she was directed to kill some domestic turkeys. She figured if she was going to eat meat, she needed to be able to kill it herself.
"If we're going to eat, something's got to die, whether it's animal protein or vegetable protein,'' she said. "But we were meant to eat meat. And it's better to do it consciously and intentionally.''
She writes: "I didn't want to have an anonymous relationship with meat.''
So she took up hunting. And she sees herself as a role model for other females.
"My belief is the future of hunting lies with the mothers and wives, because that will determine whether the kids hunt or not,'' she said. "If we don't invite them into the fold, the kids will do soccer or something else instead.''
Pellegrini added: "More women are realizing hunting is something they can enjoy.''
Along with some good eating.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @dougsmithstrib