By Kay Whatley, Editor
My afternoon started with a Tweet that sent me down a road of discovery and thought. The Tweet linked to an article by Jeremy Henderson, “Road to Table? Auburn University biology professor talks pros and cons of eating roadkill”, and included photos of a rabbit pot pie made by the Auburn University biology professor, Dr. David Steen, after a friend ran over and “salvaged” a rabbit.
It turns out that roadkill has another name, its legal/regulatory name: wildlife salvage.
Salvaging wildlife is legal in many US states, including here in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, deer require a permit to pick up but small animals are fair game. The NC permit details are available at www.ncwildlife.org/Licensing/…Salvage-Permit. The short version:
Effective January 1, 2013 a Possession and Salvage permit is no longer needed to possess most dead wildlife killed accidentally or found dead. However, deer and turkey still require permission to be possessed, and bears may not be possessed at all. Also endangered, threatened or special concern species and Migratory Birds require appropriate State and Federal Permits prior to possession.
Now, while I rode this train of thought of deer meat and such, I was reminded of an event a few years ago. In 2013, a Louisiana rescue mission was forced to destroy deer meat it had been using to prepare foods for homeless and needy people in their area. The local health department decided that venison (deer meat) was not approved for them to serve. The health department decided, on the spot, that deer wasn’t allowed and destroyed over 8,000 lbs of meat by throwing it in a dumpster and pouring bleach over it. (Similar health department actions have been in the news in recent years, where food is destroyed — even covered in chemicals to avoid salvage — because the health department says-so for “safety” reasons.)
In the case of the Louisiana rescue mission’s venison, we are not talking about road kill either. These were deer hunted through a management program, processed at an appropriate facility, handled following regulations, and donated to the shelter. So, one might ask: if the health department can destroy perfectly normal food on a whim, why would states allow salvaging and serving of road-killed animals?
Well, states do allow it. Just last week, Oregon passed a law allowing roadside deer and elk salvage. Some states provide guidelines, or suggestions, regarding when roadkill may be taken for meat (or hide, etc.). Mostly salvage is at each person’s discretion. I would hope, though, that people salvaging roadkill for food would limit themselves to only harvesting animals that they saw being killed or were absolutely sure had not been there long.
Now, I should clarify that I’m not a food prude. In our family, we’ve eaten rabbit. A neighbor once offered us raccoon, even, and my husband told me about a freaky time when he was offered monkey meat (in another country while he was in the US Army). My own grandfather — during the slim-pocket years of 1940s — frequently hunted for, and served to the family, rabbit and squirrel. Hunting was a necessary task that put food on the table for my mother, her brother, and her parents.
Referring back to the article that started my afternoon, the author makes a point that eating roadkill might just be more ethical than eating supermarket meats packaged from factory-farm slaughtered livestock. (I’m paraphrasing, even embellishing his relevant point.)
Times are tough for many. Eating roadkill may be unorthodox, but families across our state — and nation — struggle every day for food. As long as the person salvaging has the skills to properly locate, handle, and cook the dead wildlife safely, more power to them for stretching their food budget… and to states for not outlawing this unusual hunter/gatherer option.