The Province of Quebec has announced a pilot program to selectively sell wild game in restaurants. The pilot is small in scope and will be controlled in order to prevent over-hunting and the sales will be limited to a few restaurants. You can read more about it in the Montreal Gazette and on the CBC.
The article quotes Chef David McMillan (of Joe Beef) as saying,
“It’s our native meat. We work hard to use local cheese, we work hard to use local products, local vegetables, local fish, and … when it came down to meat products, generally everything [was] farm-raised.”
If you’ve read our posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a hunter (and was nearly vegetarian for more than 5 years). Game is an integral part of our diet and our kitchen changes drastically depending on the success (or lack thereof) of our fall hunt.
The claim in the Gazette article that claims “only as little as 40 per cent of all meat from the 26,000 to 28,000 wild deer killed during the annual hunt is butchered and cooked. The rest is left in the woods or by the roadside and goes to waste” is a far different version of any reality that I know, have seen or can imagine. Perhaps it’s accurate in Quebec but in 35 years of hunting I’ve never seen ANYONE willing to let an animal rot in the woods. I’m willing to be proven wrong but my immediate reaction is not pleasant.
I appreciate the spirit of this program and the intent to introduce people to more natural meat. I don’t doubt the intent of those involved but I am skeptical, and concerned about the program.
Wild meat has not been legal to sell in Ontario (or Quebec) until now. Not only can it not be sold, Government legislation treats game as a near-lethal substance; it’s not allowed in commercial kitchens and Butcher shops must rid their shop of their entire domestic crops before processing game. Many butcher shops in Norther Ontario will actually close their retail operations for 4-6 weeks during the hunting season in order to butcher game. The sudden decision to allow it to be cooked next to domestic livestock is significant.
Cooking game is different than cooking other meat. I don’t know the Chefs involved in the pilot (although I certainly know the amazing reputation of several of them and am sure they will handle this just fine) but I have spoken to other Chef’s who do not understand the precautions of cooking game and how it’s different than other meat. There are stories from across our country of Hunters contracting Trichinosis through eating undercooked game (most commonly, black bear).
Health concerns aside, what really worries me about this idea is the central idea of commoditizing game. The moment we put a value on something, especially when it is marked as ‘rare’ or ‘special’, we are often asking for trouble. Our Oceans are evidence of this as are Wild Leeks in the Province of Quebec. Leeks were once abundant but once they became a viable commercial product they were quickly over harvested and are now endangered.
Hunting is a way of sustenance for many (and possibly most) hunters. When we place commercial operations/ hunters in the woods to compete for the same limited resource, we are bound to have an effect on the overall population. Controlled hunting has traditionally benefitted the overall population of the herd (the controlled hunt culls animals which allows for a steady increase of the population and allows for more food/ habitat by population). While this concept may seem counter-intuitive, there are a number of studies (such as this 17 year study from the University of Ottawa) which show the care taken to control the harvest.
My ultimate concern is purely anecdotal. My family has hunted the same land for 42 years. The land looks after us – if we look after it. Our hunters routinely pass up harvesting animals because they are too young, too small, they don’t have a clear shot or because we’ve had success earlier in the week. By choosing to pass on the harvesting of animals in one year, we promote the chance of success in future years.
Some commercial hunters share the same vision of stewardship; many do not. They will hunt anything they can (within legal limit). If you’re intent is to make money from the hunt, a small animal is better than none at all. If one area becomes thin with animals, they will simply move to another area in following years. This isn’t true of all commercial hunters of course, but the temptation and motivation to kill is different than sustenance.
I’ll keep an open mind and hope that the program does find responsible operators who are interested in more than simply selling the meat (I’m sure they exist). In the meantime, I’m pretty excited about the discussions around eating meat that is often looked bast (like muskrat, beaver and squirrel) that have been harvested for other reasons.
If you’re looking for more information on hunting, you can find my 2013 Moose Hunting Diary (with links to the 5 previous years) here.