It takes a very specific type of person to spy the squashed corpse of a recently deceased animal and immediately think of dinner. Hunger is the last thing on most people's minds when they spot flattened fauna. However, there is a growing number of enthusiasts intent on going back to their hunter-gatherer roots and scraping up desiccated remains from roadsides across the world. Eating roadkill is becoming a popular past time.
Obviously, this idea is relatively new. In the not-too-distant past, we lacked the means to propel ourselves with sufficient speed to do damage to anything vaguely edible. Deer and badgers presumably spent much of their time bouncing off horse-drawn carriages rather than being crushed by cars. Though the origins of the practice may be somewhat shrouded in mystery, as we have become increasingly industrialised, eating roadkill has become firmly established in the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK.
One of the joys of a roadkill diet is variety. Beyond standard supermarket fare of beef, pork and chicken, anyone willing to go on a roadside scavenge can have a host of species from which to pick. North America, in particular, has a huge variety of dishes that can be “enhanced” with the addition of roadkill. In Kentucky, a traditional stew known as burgoo is often made with squirrel or possum collected from roadside, whilst the Georgian brunswick stew is rumoured to include rat and other roadkill. The lack of set recipe in dishes like these means that they suit the flexibility of the scavenger's lifestyle.
It’s not just Americans who incorporate wild roadkill into their cuisine. In the UK, a vocal network of environmentalists and foragers have become advocates for the practice. In 2007, full-time forager Fergus Drennan starred in the series The Roadkill Chef. Drennan is not picky about what he scavenges, but apparently draws the line at dogs and cats. Not so his Cornish compatriot Arthur Boyt, who claims to be particularly fond of Labrador Retrievers - likening the flavour of the flesh to lamb.
Once you get over the initial shock, there are several reasons why someone might consider turning to roadkill. One obvious benefit is the impact upon your wallet. Those who have turned to roadkill as a way of life advocate the fact that it is a free source of protein. As long as you’re always ready to seize an opportunity, you could potentially save significant sums on meat-free shopping trips.
Perhaps surprisingly, another benefit to a roadkill diet could be health. Wild game meats are typically lean, low in calories and high in protein, especially compared to their more commercially popular alternatives. One of the most popular aspects of the practice, particularly in America, is the knowledge that almost all scavenged roadkill is free from the chemicals and additives often used in commercial farming. Provided you can be assured of freshness, roadkill is a great way to enjoy completely natural produce.
Beyond the personal, there are also communal benefits to embracing roadkill. In rural areas in particular, where large wildlife may be more common than in big conurbations, scavenging on roadsides can reap huge rewards. The state of Alaska has adopted one of the most revolutionary approaches to this type of giant roadkill. Since the 70s, a salvage programme has been in effect, recycling the carcasses of deceased moose and bears and using the meat to feed the state’s homeless population. Using these animals in such a way helps the state distribute between 800 to 1,000 carcasses to needy families every year.
The recycling approach of Alaska highlights what is possibly the biggest potential benefit of incorporating roadkill. As a way to sustainably eat meat, scavenging wild animals is tough to beat. Clearly, wild animals produce next to none of the harmful side effects of their farmed counterparts. Were we to take a more opportunistic approach to meat eating, rather than becoming ever more reliant on livestock farming, the impact could benefit the whole planet.
Anyone considering taking an exploratory step into the world of roadkill cookery would be well advised to not heedlessly leap in. In many places, there are laws in place hindering the acquisition of roadkill, even for personal use. In California and Texas, the practice is banned outright over health concerns, while some states consider roadkill state property. It’s therefore essential that any would-be forager reads up on local laws.
Beyond the potential legal issues, there a few more tips that any amateur enthusiast should heed. Clearly, one justifiable concern over eating roadkill is the viability of the meat. Animals that you accidentally hit yourself are guaranteed to be the freshest but clearly, it is difficult to tell how long other scavenged animals have been by the roadside. Parasites, as well as disease, are a potential problem. In order to avoid serious illness, any roadkill meat needs to be cooked for a significant period of time.
A further consideration is research. Understanding what animals you can expect to find in your local area and how best to prepare them is essential before setting out. Whilst most animals are at least vaguely edible, it pays to know which are the most susceptible to disease, which are the easiest to prepare and, ultimately, which make the best eating. Equipping yourself with at least some knowledge prior to setting out is essential.
Obviously, joining the roadkill movement will not be for everyone. Nor indeed, if everyone did decide to join, would it be a practical way of satisfying the planet’s desire for meat. However, the clear benefits that it provides and the adventurous approach it represents mean it isn’t quite as horrible as it may first seem. Maybe dinner will no longer be the last thing on your mind when you next spot a dead deer.