The Benefits of Eating Wild Game
"The Squirrel Years"
In my home state of Pennsylvania, many families supplement their diet by eating wild game. For my family, sometimes it wasn’t a choice – we were hungry and the meat was free. My former husband and I raised our daughters on a diet of venison. We also supplemented that with whatever was in season: rabbit, squirrel, goose, duck, pheasant and grouse. I’ve also tried bear, elk and moose and I have to tell you, even though I have a penchant for what comes out of the local grocery store, wild game was a life saver for us through the tough years. And there were some very lean years.
One of my favorite stories sends me to the freezer one desperate evening in search of meat for dinner. I found one thing left – a frozen squirrel (AKA “chicken of the trees”). I cooked it the best I could, but it lay on the plate with its little legs pointing straight to the ceiling as if it was still pouncing away from the hunter. I picked the tiny pieces of meat off the bone and fed them to my toddlers and years later when I told a girlfriend this story she referred to this lean time as “The Squirrel Years” and it stuck.
A Leaner, Meaner Meat
Besides being free meat, Mayo Clinic nutritionists, Jennifer Nelson and Katherine Zeratsky point out the greatest benefit of wild game; “…wild game is leaner than domesticated animals, because animals in the wild are typically more active. In comparison to lean cuts of beef and pork, game meat has about one-third fewer calories (game birds have about half the calories) and quite a bit less saturated and total fat.”
In our calorie conscience country, the “lean” factor is benefit enough to sample from nature’s grocery store.
Pete Thomas in the Los Angeles Times calls wild game, "natural heath food" siting the following comparisons in nutritional information between wild and domesticated animals:
Some examples, based on a 3 1/2-ounce serving (pay particular attention to the fat values):
- Elk, 146 calories, 1.9 grams of fat, 73 milligrams of cholesterol, 0.7 of a gram of saturated fat.
- Moose, 134 calories, .97 of a gram of fat, 78 milligrams of cholesterol, 0.3 of a gram of saturated fat.
- Deer, 153 calories, 1.4 grams of fat, 89 milligrams of cholesterol, 1.1 grams of saturated fat.
- Lean roast beef, 239 calories, 14.3 grams of fat, 87 milligrams of cholesterol, 7.2 grams of saturated fat.
- Lean ham, 153 calories, 5.8 grams of fat, 58 milligrams of cholesterol, 7.7 grams of saturated fat.
- Chicken (without skin), 163 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1.3 grams of saturated fat.
This is why, Thomas says, “There is a drawback to eating wild animals, however. . . Wild animals lack the fat that make domesticated animals taste so good.”
Perhaps this is why I used to can my venison with garlic, cook their loins with onions and lay bacon on duck breasts. We were always trying to moisten the meat and cover any “gamey” taste.
You actually may end up enjoying eating wild game. As for me, I’m glad the ‘Squirrel Years’ are long past and I can just enjoy the little furry fellas now as they nibble on acorns outside my living room window.
ADDENDUM: Chronic Wasting Disease
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in deer, elk, and moose in certain geographic locations in North America. While the Pennsylvania Game Commission has not detected CWD in any of Pennsylvania’s deer population, it has been found in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission offers precautions that hunters should take to prevent the spread of the disease.
"Chronic Wasting Overview." http://www.portal.state.pa.us. Pennsylvania State Game Commission, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2012. www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=587240&mode=2.
Nelson, Jennifer, M.S., R.D., Katherine Zeratsky, and R.D.. "Wild game — A healthy choice? - MayoClinic.com." Mayo Clinic. N.p., 4 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 Dec. 2012. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/wild-game/MY01079>.
Thomas, Pete. "Eat Wild Game: It's a Natural Health Food - Los Angeles Times." Featured Articles From The Los Angeles Times. N.p., 7 Nov. 1997. Web. 17 Dec. 2012. http://articles.latimes.com/1997/nov/07/sports/sp-51350.