Chances are that if you hunt, you were born into a hunting family. Local hunter and conservationist, Cosmo Genova, 26, is at the center of efforts to change that equation. Since 2012, Cosmo has been organizing activities to not only guide people through the logistics of hunting in upstate New York but to also cultivate a fascination with their food and where it comes from. His passion is evident in simple the way he talks about it all – the thrill in harvesting his own meat, being an active and aware participant in the ecosystem, and the beliefs that give meaning to his mission. But what he wants people to know more than anything else is that he is not who you think he is.
Cosmo grew up in Spencer, a small farming village 30 miles south of Ithaca. His father, an avid outdoorsman and fishing educator, passed away early in Cosmo’s life. His mother supported his budding interests by driving him to places so he could shadow others on hunting trips, but it was only after college, where he majored in anthropology and political science, and more particularly after he began cooking in fine dining restaurants, that his love for hunting was born. For Cosmo, hunting brought something special to cooking. “There’s this incredible aspect of hunting that is food related – that is why people hunt. It is pure, organic, beautiful, and sustainable meat. It is as free-range and ethical as you can possibly get. It’s more than just the thrill of going out and hunting. I didn’t see it at first, but now as a culinary professional and the way I grew up with the appreciation of wild game, it all developed into real action.”
After this realization, Cosmo started a blog and obtained his guiding license to introduce people to the intricacies of hunting and sustainability. He wanted to challenge the stereotype of hunters as “just a bunch of dumb rednecks shooting stuff.” In Cosmo’s eyes, hunters are key protectors of the environment. Cosmo points out that it was hunters like president Theodore Roosevelt who introduced legislation to protect public lands and natural life, which were under severe threat, legislation that has also safeguarded everyone’s right to use public lands.
To help people who are interested in hunting but who didn’t have the luck of being born into a hunting family, he created a local network called the “Ithaca Area Hunting & Conservation Group”, where individuals can be either mentors or mentees and can exchange information and expertise on hunting and fishing. Through Facebook and other online resources, Cosmo organizes presentations, discussions, and walkthroughs of different elements of hunting. Whether it is connecting people to a mandatory hunting class or teaching how to properly use a gun, Cosmo makes himself available to anyone who is intimidated by the whole process.
He is not in it this for the money. “By no means do I have a career, let’s be honest about that. I scraped together money. And it is not feasible for me as one individual but I still try my best. “ Even though it comes at a personal cost, he finds his work rewarding because he can facilitate dialogue between people who would never understand each other otherwise. Everyone from environmentalists to gun enthusiasts can not only be part of the hunting network but appreciate Cosmo’s passion and dedication to it--that is perhaps what people find most inspirational. He recalls making a batch of fried squirrel meat once, taking it to a local bar, and then passing out what people realized was delicious, healthy meat. It created a space where people came together to enjoy good food and good conversation. That is how people are drawn to not only become involved in hunting but become advocates for it.
So what is Cosmo hoping for? “We need more hunters, yes, for sustainability. But we also need allies. People obviously need help getting into it but they also need help with how they think about it. We need to focus on small proportions of dialogue and making small changes, not big waves or big nonprofits, but small personal experiences.”
Interview by Khansa Mahum