Making the case for the benefits of wild fish and game
Have you ever had an awkward conversation about eating wild fish or game with someone who’s never even tried it? The ever-widening gap between people and the source of their food is the root of this problem. If food doesn’t come wrapped in plastic with a barcode on it, most people have been conditioned to not only mistrust it, but to also be wilfully ignorant of its origin. The busy modern world is so disconnected from the realities of nature that the very idea of killing to eat can be shocking to many.
I have these exchanges constantly online, and often in person. When you post as much hunting and fishing content as I do, you’re bound to run into a few naysayers. I’ve found that most people are simply uninformed, however, and their objections to harvesting wildlife come from good intentions. So, I try to use these encounters as an opportunity to put better information out there—something all anglers and hunters should strive to do.
THE HEALTH ASPECT
There’s a widespread myth that mass-produced foods are somehow better, safer and tastier than wild foods, when nothing could be further from the truth. Michelin-Starred chefs would practically fist fight each other for the delicious, organic, free-range, locally harvested delicacies in my pantry and freezer. The ingredients we bring home from our Canadian lakes and forests are some of the best you can get anywhere.
Simply put, unadulterated wild foods are superior in flavour and quality compared to much of what’s sold at supermarkets. They’re also much better for your health, beautifully free of all the hormones, steroids, antibiotics, fillers, preservatives and other chemicals found in store-bought foods, including plant-based products. I hunt, fish and forage for the exact same reasons I grow more than 1,000 pounds of organic food in my vegetable gardens every year—you just can’t beat the quality, nutritional density, freshness or flavour. And you know exactly where it came from.
The white-tailed deer I aim to shoot and butcher every fall is a great example. Venison is not only richer in protein than any other red meat, it’s also lean and heart-healthy, densely packed with nutrients, and even lower in saturated fats than salmon.In other words, venison puts the most popular mass-produced meats to shame in nearly every metric that counts as part of a healthy, balanced diet. And when processed, aged and cooked properly, it’s delicious. Big racks and personal bests are exciting, but as anyone who harvests their own food knows, the meals are the real trophies.
THE ETHICAL QUESTION
When people raise moral objections to hunting for food, it’s worth pointing out that the forest is as ruthless as it is beautiful. It’s not a Disney cartoon out there. Any wild ungulate is only ever a single bad winter away from death by starvation, being torn apart by a predator or dying slowly from disease or illness. I’ve found that most people don’t know this simple truth.
I’m not suggesting hunters are doing deer any favours by shooting them, but I take some comfort in knowing which way I’d choose to go out if given the choice. Deer typically live a largely undisturbed and healthy life in the familiar environment they’ve evolved to occupy—right up until the shot rings out or the arrow hits home. An animal raised into industrial captivity isn’t so lucky.
I’ll spare you the upsetting details of how factory-farmed animals live and die, but suffice it to say a hunter-harvested deer exits this world with relatively little suffering and a lot more dignity. If you care about the treatment of animals and eat meat, there’s no better way to do it ethically than to become a skilled and efficient hunter.
Then there are the damaging environmental consequences wrought by the industrial food systems that keep people in beef or veggie burgers. Compare the minuscule ecological impact of a hunter-harvested deer with the mammoth carbon footprint required to bring a single steer to market—or the equivalent weight in plant-based products. That alone wins the argument for eating wild fish and game.