Once, Thoreau says, when a woodchuck crossed his path, he had the urge to kill and eat it. He finds in himself a spiritual life and a savage life, and he loves and respects both sides. He believes, however, that eating animal food is unclean and does not really feed the soul, and that living by preying on animals is a low way for men to live. Instead, they need a more wholesome diet, limiting what one drinks to water, the only thing a wise man should drink. He advocates that boys be taught to shoot, but as sportsmen, not hunters, who will one day leave the gun and finishing pole behind to become men of intellect.
Thoreau seeks to combine a higher life of spirituality and the intellect with the hardiness of living as a part of nature, but he believes they must both exist within a person in moderation. Hunting and eating animals makes men less human and, like drinking alcohol, suppresses his higher inclinations.
What defiles a man is not food, however, but the appetite with which he consumes it, Thoreau believes; the animal inside a man wakes insofar as his higher faculties sleep. By living a pure life and controlling one's appetites, all of which are linked, one may commune with God, he believes, and keep sacred the temple that is one's own body. From work comes virtue, while from laziness comes vice and ignorance, he says.
The danger of embracing one's savage life is that it will control him, separating him from his spiritual life. Even while living in nature, the individual has the capacity to control it, and must live deliberately and strive for a meaningful existence.