Long the butt of dumb jokes about rural living, eating roadkill is finally having its moment.
When I was young, I had the kind of entrepreneurial idea that might only come from the irreverent brain of a quirky, vegan teen: Roadkill fur coats. The biggest shame was in paving through wildlife habitat and driving our giant steel boxes into animals, I figured, but the second biggest shame was in letting the carcasses go to waste.
And it's that waste that appears to be at the heart of an increasing number of states creating new legislation to allow people to, as Karin Brulliard writes in the Washington Post, "scoop dead animals off the road and serve them for dinner."Long the butt of dumb jokes about rural living, eating roadkill is finally having its moment. Last week, Oregon become the latest of about 20 states to legally allow the practice. Brulliard reports that:
"Washington issued 1,600 roadkill salvaging permits within one year of legalizing the practice in 2016; Pennsylvania, where more than 5,600 vehicle-deer crashes were reported in 2017; and Georgia, where motorists may take home struck bears. The rules vary by state, though most require timely reporting of the collection to authorities, and most absolve the state of responsibility if the meat turns out to be stomach-turning."
In Oregon, state Senator Bill Hansell, sponsored the bill, and yes, there are rules to deter malfeasance. A free permit must be applied for within 24 hours and the – I don't know, "harvester"? – must turn over the animal’s head and antlers to the state wildlife agency within five business days. Hansell says this is to prevent a financial incentive for deliberately running down animals, as well as providing an opportunity for wildlife officials to test deer for chronic wasting disease.
And of course, the death must have been by accident. Drivers are not allowed to “hunt with their automobiles,” Hansell says. How this will be enforced, I am not sure – but given the danger and damage to cars from hitting deer, I doubt people will start aiming for them. In the first few days, a dozen salvaging permits had been issued. “That’s 12 carcasses that are not strewn alongside of the road, that are being harvested and consumed,” Hansell says. “It’s exciting.”
Hansell says that hunters like the bill – I assume because they are already well-practiced in the art of dealing with dead animals. Animal welfare types like it too, presumably because it might ease the burden on factory farming. According to Modern Farmer, in 2011, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company estimated that some 1,232,000 deer were hit by cars in the United States. "Now imagine that only a third of that meat could be salvaged. That’d be about 20 million pounds of free-range venison, perhaps not much compared to the 23 billion pounds of beef produced in the U.S. in 2011 but significant."
Meanwhile, nutritionists are keen for it, says Hansell, because they like the idea of free organic protein.
And while the sight of a dead animal on the side of the road brings me to tears, I can't deny the environmental benefits of carnivores eating roadkill. Factory farms are wrecking the planet, the resources used in transporting meat all over the place are not insignificant, and the excess packaging of supermarket meat is beyond wasteful. Not to mention the cognitive dissonance that is encouraged when people are offered tidy, abstract packets of protein at the grocery store, allowing them to distance themselves from the fact that they are eating something that may look very much like their dog or horse.
Wilderness survival author and sustainable living guru, Thomas Elpel, agrees on these points. “It’s meat. Whether you buy it in a store or pick it up on the side of the road, it’s the same thing. In the stores, it’s packaged with Styrofoam and plastic, which maybe looks pretty but is harmful to the environment,” Elpel tells The Post. “It’s a more authentic way to connect with your food supply.”