The benefits of wild game meat
How healthy is the meat you eat? It depends on whether you are buying it, cultivating it or hunting it. It also depends on how that animal was raised prior to becoming the piece of protein on your plate. Grass-fed, locally sourced beef is a great alternative to factory-farmed, grocery-store commercial meat, but you know what is even better? Meat that was hunted and taken from the wild. It is the ultimate free-range and organic meat.
“Hunting is a lifestyle that’s fun, engaging, rewarding and adventurous. It’s really fun to go out and get your own food. It’s fun to be self-sufficient. It’s fun to learn ancient skills and provide for yourself,” says Steven Rinella, avid outdoorsman and host of MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel.
Many people don’t associate wild meat with local food, but it is an important piece of the local food discussion, and one that is often ignored in favor of other flavors of the forest, such as mushrooms and other wild edibles. This is mainly due to the fact that wild meat doesn’t fall into the tidy (and familiar) categories of beef and chicken (steaks, burgers and chops) and requires a step or two away from the convenience of the selection available at your local grocery store.
But why is wild game nutritionally superior to commercial meat?
It’s a lean protein
Wild meat is a lean protein with a low fat content that is primarily due to the animal’s higher level of activity as well as its natural diet (as opposed to the heavy grain and corn-based diets of domesticated livestock). Wild animals are not confined, require no forced antibiotics, and are able to roam freely and breed naturally. According to the USDA, wild meats are higher in protein, iron, and B vitamins than its beef and pork counterparts.
“Generations ago people were healthier because they weren’t eating meat stocked with steroids. Venison is a lean and incredibly healthy meat,” says Lee Lakosky, co-host of the Outdoor Channel hunting show Crush with Lee and Tiffany.
It’s an omega-3 powerhouse
An analysis completed by researchers at Purdue University found that wild game, with specific emphasis on elk, deer and antelope from the Rocky Mountains region, contains a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids and a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (which is healthier for you) in muscle meats compared to the grass-fed beef equivalent.
Omega-3s and omega-6s are essential for balanced nutrition, but too much of either can lead to risks of chronic disease or other health issues. Researchers found that the mixture of fats found in wild game are balanced and lower in cholesterol, which can lessen the risk of chronic disease.
Great source of iron and zinc
Wild game is also a good source of iron and zinc, which are beneficial minerals necessary for balanced health. Iron is necessary for oxygen to travel to tissues and organs while zinc provides support for a healthy immune system.
The environmental benefits of wild meat
Wild meat is acquired through hunting, trapping or fishing. The animal has never been domesticated, fed an unnatural food source, and has roamed freely within its intended habitat. Eating its natural diet (one free of additional growth hormones, antibiotics or animal byproducts), this animal — whether it is deer, elk, duck, pheasant, trout or another species is the original free-range and organic meat.
According to the EPA, factory farms, on the other hand, are permitted to house more than 125,000 animals under one roof, producing cheap meat, eggs and dairy that may hinder our health – and the health of our planet -- more than it helps it. Not only have we seen an increase in diet-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity, but the environmental impact of these farms and their relationship to climate change is now being studied to determine how these practices affect planet health.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) now estimates that 80% of overall livestock sector growth comes from industrial meat production, and accounts for 72% of all poultry production, 43% of all egg production, and 55% of all pork production worldwide. According to the FAO, commercial livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, which is higher than GHG emissions from transportation. Factory farms produce high levels of waste and contribute to the spread of human and animal diseases.
Those who hunt create a smaller environmental footprint. Knowing that wild meat is available (if you hunt, fish or trap) as an alternative to factory-farmed meat is satisfying to the hunter who has spent hours -- and sometimes days and weeks -- to bring that animal to the dinner plate. As the industrialized nature of food continues to grow, so do the reasons and justification to harvest wild meat and be more in charge of where your food comes from.