CONFER: Venison, the other red meat

Bob Confer

Many men and women of my generation are active participants and proponents of the locavore movement.

Locavores, in a nutshell, strive to purchase their foodstuff from growers and producers in their immediate geographic area in order to develop self-reliant, resilient, environmentally-sound and economically-impactful food networks. They emphasize buying from local butchers, small dairies, and produce stands while also joining CSA programs (Community Supported Agriculture). It’s making a lifestyle out of farm-to-table.

One niche that a few locavores have tackled, which I strongly encourage others to, is the field-to-fork movement. Under this practice, the consumers focus on adding to their dinner tables wild game — the ultimate in all-natural, sustainable local food.

They might acquire it themselves through hunting, but many rely on others to do it for them. With the latter, it’s no different than buying eggs or milk from a local stand. They want the nutritious outcomes, but would rather someone else be the chicken farmer or dairyman. Having others hunt gives locavores the easiest and cleanest route to enjoying local meats, some of which diners in fancy urban restaurants would consider “exotic.”

This is the time of year when I suggest locavores reach out to a friend or family member who enjoys a good hunt and ask them to harvest for you. Archery season for deer is underway and the firearms season opens very soon. State laws prevents hunters from selling their harvests to consumers, but they can freely give it away and many of them would gladly do so. Taking one or two deer can easily fill a freezer yet, after doing so, the hunter might find him or herself with more tags (many deer management units will see multiple doe tags issued to hunters) and a strong desire to go back into fields and forest. If you request your friend to fill their tag and give the meat to you, both parties get what they want.

Locavores who have yet to immerse themselves in local game would be well-served by dining on deer. It is healthy and delicious … and the harvest is good for the environment.

Because of deer having a more natural grass- and nut-fed diet, their meat is leaner and it features an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids, the same healthy and essential fats you get from wild fish. When comparing the ratios of Omega-6 (essential, but unhealthy in higher volume) to Omega-3 in deer to that of grain-fed cattle, you’re looking at numbers of 2:1 for deer versus beef cattle’s which ranges from 5:1 to 13:1. Venison also tends to be far higher in niacin and iron than beef, and it is a good source of B12, B6 and riboflavin. This all means venison is far and away a healthy alternative when considered as the “other red meat.”

It works for me. I consume a lot of venison. I might eat it five or six times a week. Despite that much meat, my bloodwork and other overall health numbers come in at impressive levels, especially for someone in his mid 40s. For example, my total cholesterol ranges from 110 to 140, my fasting sugar is below 90, my resting pulse is in the upper 50s and I take no prescriptions. I believe natural, healthy meats are critical to those and other outcomes and it’s highly doubtful that consuming that much beef, or questionable soy products, would be that good to me.

Those who have never or only previously dabbled in venison (a steak here, an occasional burger there) might believe that the meat needs some special attention to be edible. It doesn’t and I would make the case that the meat is tastier and more versatile than greasy, deeply-fattened cuts of beef. Through the years, my workplace lunches have consisted of ground venison in my chili or mixed with quinoa and peas. For dinner, there’s not much better than tenderloins, backstraps or deer steaks cooked on the grill.

The consumption thereof would also satisfy a major goal of locavores — getting nutrition with a bit of environmental consciousness. Many of them express a sort of guilt in what their food chain takes in terms of inputs (water, fossil fuels, land, chemicals) spread across the agricultural and distribution channels. They can eat venison guilt-free; it’s naturally-occurring and naturally-grown, all without Man’s influence. Plus, winnowing the herd saves local forests. Many naturalists, yours truly included, know that the overabundance of deer in Western New York has destroyed our forests’ understories, wiping out vast stands of trilliums and rare orchids among other wildflowers.

So, locavores, if you’re listening, become a hunter or reach out to a hunter. The deer harvest is upon us and there’s no better way to put some healthy and responsible protein in your freezer and your belly.

  

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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