Roadkill: Eat it or leave it?

| 31 Dec 2013 | 03:44

The ethical meat

Eating roadkill? Why would anybody even think of doing that? Isn’t it kind of - gross? For my boyfriend and me, it is just part of how we live. We wanted to not be as much a part of the system that we see as so destructive to our entire planet. For almost 10 years now, we have lived in a small, completely off grid, no running water, no electricity-community in the Southern Appalachias. Because we’ve chosen to live full time this way, rather than have jobs, we’ve also had to learn many of the self sufficiency skills that our parents and grandparents knew, but that have mostly been lost. For example, in almost every rural and semi-rural region in America there are huge numbers of deer that get killed and left to rot. A large deer is 50 to 100 pounds of meat. Several deer picked up, butchered, and put up in a freezer or canned, goes a long way to providing a years’ worth of meat.

Then there are several moral reasons. While we aren’t 100 percent opposed to it, neither of us really likes the idea of domestication, or keeping animals to serve our own needs. I suppose we would if absolutely necessary, but we prefer not to have to. A second moral reason is that of actually doing something with at least a few of the animals that get needlessly killed by cars every year. The last two reasons we eat roadkill are that we absolutely refuse to support the factory meat industry, and find that eating wild meat is healthier and tastes better. We also like to have a feeling of self sufficiency in the things we do, especially in regards to gathering of food. Stopping to pick up a roadkill means that you become very clear about what killed this animal. You have to make a decision as to whether or not it is still good to eat, you have to process the animal - it is not just an anonymous Styrofoam package of meat that somebody else took care of for you.

Really, there’s nothing right about a society that murders as many animals and destroys our planet as we do in the pursuit of getting from here to there, but in the context of the society we do have, eating roadkill just makes sense.

Talia Kershaw, homesteader, southern Appalachia;

Talia’s tips for assessing roadkill:

Once you get used to it, making safe decisions with roadkill is really pretty easy and takes no more than a few seconds. When deciding whether or not to pick an animal up, use your eyes and nose.

1)How does it smell? If is smells rotten, it is.

2) Is it bloated? With occasional exceptions, if an animal is

really bloated, leave it alone.

3) Are the eyes clear or cloudy? A little subjective, and use

your other senses, but as the animal ages, the eyes become more and more cloudy.

4) Is the animal stiff? Also subjective, but generally if an

animal is stiff, it is still fairly fresh. If not-it is either very very fresh, or starting to age.

5) My final test- grab a handful of hair on the belly. If it

pulls out easily, leave it, it is getting old. For butchering, there are lots of books and probably YouTube videos out


There are also some disease and parasite precautions. Do some reading, don’t freak yourself out too much, wash your hands afterwards and wear gloves during if it makes you feel more comfortable, freeze a hide that has ticks, cook the meat well.

Steer clear

The deer are gorgeous here. I know that from firsthand experience. My son is into hunting and fishing in a big way. He has access to some of the prime hunting grounds in the county of Orange. We’re seeing the deer become so complacent they’re getting back fat on them, because of the variety of fresh vegetables we have, the foraging grasses and legumes, the incredible amount of soybeans and feed crops. Their diet has a huge impact on the flavor. Properly taken, it’s a tremendous bounty that we have locally.

But a deer killed by a car? First off, that deer is running, it’s got adrenaline pumping through its system; it’s running because it’s scared. One of the primary things about hunting, ideally, is the surprise. If you have a clear and effective shot, they’re dead right there. Likewise, in the setting of a slaughterhouse, at least the ones concerned with quality, they want to euthanize as quickly as possible. The adrenaline causes the animal to tighten up, and it certainly makes the meat tougher.

Then there’s the question of where it was hit. If it was a gut shot, everything that was in the intestine would be splattered inside the cavity. When an intestine breaks that’s not something you’d consider edible.

And of course the moment that it’s dead it’s decaying, like any living being. Anything picked up off the side of the road would have to be handled quickly in a sanitary, controlled environment. There’s a whole host of things.

It’s really about knowing. It’s like foraging for mushrooms. One simple mushroom could kill you. You have to be well versed. I would steer totally clear of that unless you full well know exactly what it is you’re getting yourself into. It’s not for someone who’s just going to happen upon something.

That said — hopefully it never happens, but in the event that my family was hungry, and there was roadkill, and all the variables were known, I’d consider it. But barring that, I’d opt not to stop.

- As told to Becca Tucker

Bob Matuszewski, butcher and owner of Quaker Creek Store, Pine Island, NY