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The benefits of wild game meat


Wild game meat
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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.

Processing wild game meat

“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.

Packaged wild game 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.

Wild game burgers

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.

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1 Comment

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Clayton S. - posted 5 years ago on 11-05-2014 07:53:18 am
Broken Bow, Nebraska

Ms. Schmitt, while your article brings up great points about the benefits of wild game meat and the satisfaction of providing fantastic table fare for our families, it lacks in accuracy throughout. As an avid hunter, food animal veterinarian, and an individual involved with my family's ranch, I take offense to the bold assumptions you have made here. Our current world population is over 7 billion and expected to reach 11 billion by 2050. Can these numbers be fed on venison alone? Above you mention that farms are producing cheap meat, eggs and dairy that may hinder our health – and the health of our planet. I would argue that farms are producing affordable protein for people that otherwise would not be able to afford or provide for themselves. In addition, in what way are they hindering our health? Surely you cannot completely blame animal protein for an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, when our increasingly sedentary culture consumes even more amounts of refined sugar and carbohydrates. I would argue with Lee Lakosky's statement that people were healthier generations ago. If that were true, then why is our life expectancy greater now than ever? As far as harming our environment, animal agriculture is more efficient than ever. According to Jude Capper PhD from Washington State University, animal agriculture's carbon footprint has decreased by 16% per unit of production since 1977. It would take more land, more water, and increased time to produce the same animal on grass alone, therefore increasing the carbon footprint. Also, you mention that factory farms produce high levels of waste and contribute to human and animal disease. Are you referring to something specifically or do you have any data that would back that up? The assumption is made that organic foods are "better" for you, but there are no scientific data to back that assumption up. Rather than alienating hunters and food animal producers, we should unite and combine resources to fight common enemies like PETA and HSUS. Furthermore, I would invite you to come tour some modern food animal production systems today to get a better understanding of how and why our food is produced. No hunter can deny the satisfaction of the hunt and the end result of delicious self provided meat but, we shouldn't justify this based on misguided statements.