Dirtbag Gourmet: Eating Road Kill

Alison Brierley is a bit of a celebrity in the U.K., and has been featured on cooking shows for her

Alison Brierley is a bit of a celebrity in the U.K., and has been featured on cooking shows for her novelty factor. That novelty is that she’s eaten road kill for eight years and sees nothing wrong with it. She says our squeamishness about whether something was killed by a car or an arrow, a bullet or, potentially, after a far crueler life on a factory farm has everything to do with Western hangups. Still, as with anything on the fringe of the mainstream knowledge base, becoming a “Road Kill Gourmet” doesn’t happen overnight. Brierley’s progression started as a global backpacker, someone who’s travelled from the Amazon to India, Papa New Guinea to Guatemala learning to find edible plants, “which termites were safe to lick directly off the tree trunk in the Amazon, how to identify non poisonous fruits in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, or where to find edible bamboo worms and crickets in the hill tribes of Thailand.”

All of which puts eating a dead wild turkey from the side of the road in some perspective. But as Brierley points out, you don’t have to have eaten insects and worms to understand that road kill, if it’s fresh and not smashed by an 18-wheeler, is also food. She says that for her the lightbulb went on when she saw a pheasant hit by the car driving in front of her.

It bounced to the side of the road. I stopped to pick it up — thankfully it was already dead. “Why couldn’t I eat this?” I thought. It was exactly the same bird you would buy in a country butchers. Butchers tend to ‘hang’ pheasants for about a week, so this was definitely fresher than those. It was a perfectly intact, organic, free-range, pesticide-free, growth hormone-free and cruelty-free piece of meat. So I took it home, prepared and ate it. It was delicious and I derived a huge amount of pride and satisfaction from what I had done. And it was a free meal: Bonus!

Okay, well isn’t it free because nobody wants to eat it?
It’s true that there are taboos, but really this isn’t different from what happens if you hunt. And knowing where your food comes from — what it really is — isn’t a bad thing. Your average carnivore would eat far less meat if they had to participate in the entire process from beginning to end. With road kill that usually doesn’t mean killing the animal, unlike hunting. Occasionally I have had to kill rabbits and pheasants, but luckily not very often. But if I cannot save its life, I should dispatch it. I find it hypocritical if I am not able to do this, when I am more than willing to eat its flesh.

Aren’t people partially put off because of the work involved, the learning curve?
Most people think of pancake-flat red mush when they think of road kill and this is far from the truth, but obviously if that’s what you find you don’t want to eat it. So here are some rules:

Gloves are recommended and a plastic bag or tarp.

If you saw the accident the meat is definitely fresh. If you didn’t, only pick up those that have ‘bounced’ from being hit cleanly once, preferably from the side of the road.

Avoid badly damaged or ruptured animals. Check the animal carefully.

Good indicators of optimal freshness are: clear eyes (and the fact it still has eyes), living and active fleas and fresh, red unclotted blood (if any, but a bloody nose is common).

Rigor mortis sets in early, then the body will relax again hours later, so if it is stiff it could still be fresh, but either way if skin moves freely on the muscles the carcass is fresh.

If it smells rotten, don’t take it. If it smells okay on the outside, but when you open it up it smells iffy don’t eat it.

Cold climates are better for freshness.

Cooking or freezing the animal thoroughly will kill practically all nasties, but do your homework.

Say I’m a hypocrite. I refuse to eat road kill. I’m just not onboard. But then I find myself starving in the wild. What’s a lesson to impart that might save my life?
Well if you manage to find a bird or kill one, skip plucking feathers; it takes seconds to skin and gut any bird. You don’t need the skin. Rabbits are also easy; if it is really fresh the skin peels right off. But gut rabbits quickly as they’ll spoil fast otherwise. Don’t bother with an entire deer. You’ll use way too much energy. It’s quicker and easier to take a haunch. The ball socket just comes apart. All you have to do is cut deep into the muscle around the hip, and there you go, it pops off!

Besides the survival aspect, you claim this meat is healthier, period, right?
Eating roadkill is definitely healthier than meat laden with antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants, as most supermarket meat is today. Ethically, nutritionally, I know what I would rather eat!

FYI, if reading this post has you curious rather than upset your appetite, here’s Brierley’s recipe for road kill pheasant pot pie. And there’s more on her blog as well.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some of what Brierley describes is illegal in the U.S., depending on where you live. Some states’ laws are covered here. What may be surprising is that two of America’s largest blue and red states (California and Texas) get no lovin’ when it comes to bringing Bambi to the oven, whereas wisely, a less populace state like Maine lets you keep road kill as long as you let the cops tag it. Our guess: In reality this applies to deer and moose, not rabbits.

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