The Current

Why hunt when you can eat roadkill? Salvaged meat better than veganism for animal welfare, say advocates

California legalized eating roadkill last week, but the rules still vary across Canada. Some advocates say it's the ultimate way to enjoy meat and reduce harm to animals.

California legalized eating roadkill last week, but rules vary across Canada

A moose is shown running in front of a car in Gros Morne National Park in N.L. on August 14, 2007. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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Originally published on Oct. 28, 2019.

Late one night, Joanna Young and her partner — Jeremy VanderMeer — got a call from the Alaska State Troopers telling them that there was a moose dead on the highway.

They told her that if she got there in time, she could keep the meat.

"We were out at the side of the road by maybe about one in the morning," says Young, who went with friends to inspect the carcass.

"Between the four of us, in an hour we had the whole animal quartered and loaded up in our car ready to drive home," she told The Current's guest host David Common.

"We got about 140 pounds of meat to divide between four people."

Andrew Cyr and Stephanie O'Daly, friends of Joanna Young, prepare the meat from salvaged roadkill at Young's home in Alaska. (Submitted by Joanna Young)

Young got the call that night because her name was on a waiting list with the Alaskan State Troopers. When an animal dies on the roadside, they call the next name on the list, offering them the chance to come and salvage the meat.

Last week, California legalized roadkill for human consumption, joining more than two dozen U.S. states that allow it. In Canada, the laws around it vary from province to province.

B.C., the Yukon and Alberta allow consumption if you have a permit, but you can only eat it yourself — you can't sell it. Other provinces do not allow it at all.

Originally from suburban Toronto, Young moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years ago. She is a PhD Candidate in glaciology. She was a vegan when she first moved there, but now eats roadkill.

"I'm a big fan of doing a moose chilli, in the slow cooker," she told Common. 

Is eating roadkill is better for animal welfare?

Donald Bruckner, an associate professor of philosophy at Penn State University, argues that Young's move from veganism to eating roadkill could actually be better for animal welfare.

Among other aims, a vegan diet hopes to reduce harm, particularly the harm done to factory-farmed animals, he says.

He claims that "there are still environmental harms associated with vegetable farming."

"A diet that includes roadkill instead of some vegan staples would have a lower harm footprint," he says.

"So by the vegan's own logic, it would be morally better to have a diet including some roadkill."

Joanna Young and her partner Jeremy VanderMeer at their home in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Submitted by Joanna Young)

While many people choose not to eat meat out of respect for animals, Bruckner finds it disrespectful to let perfectly good meat go to waste.

He collects roadkill and will often serve it to guests at his home. He understands there is a social stigma attached to roadkill, but argues that "sometimes we're morally obligated to do things that are gross."

"If you were hurt and you were haemorrhaging badly, it might be gross for a bystander to have to help stop your bleeding. But there might be a moral obligation to do that," he says.

"It's morally obligatory for parents to change baby's diapers — that's pretty gross." 

By the vegan's own logic, it would be morally better to have a diet including some roadkill- Donald Bruckner

Young agrees that "there's a vision of picking up a squirrel that's at the side of the road, in sweltering heat."

"That's just not what this looks like at all," she says. 

"What this looks like is a very large animal that's unfortunately lost its life and has hundreds, potentially hundreds, of pounds of good meat — organic, free range meat — that's in perfectly good shape."

The risks of roadside meat

Lawrence Goodridge, a professor of food safety at the University of Guelph, urged caution when dealing with meat found on the side of the road. 

Hygiene standards can't be guaranteed when salvaging the meat, he warns. It could be contaminated by chemicals or substances on the roadside itself, or even small fragments of metal or glass from the vehicle that hit it.

Bacteria could have formed in the time it takes to get to the animal, he adds, particularly during warm weather. And there are risks when butchering the carcass, including the chance the intestines could leak during removal.

"Those who may perhaps be drawn to this because of their interest in reducing food waste, and who may not have had experience handling dead animals, [they] could still present a risk to themselves and their families," he warns.

VanderMeer preparing the leg of a moose. (Submitted by Joanna Young)

Young acknowledges there are risks, but said that "we're really diligent when we get home about how we process it, and only keep the parts that look the very best."

She sees using roadkill as a way to cut down on hunting.

"Instead of having to go out and hunt an animal that's out in the wild, we can pick one up from the side of the road that's for the most part in pretty good shape."

People can pay thousands of dollars for a guided hunt, she adds, but collecting roadkill is free.

"I'm a student. It saves me a lot of money, and again, it's really high-quality, wild game meat that has been organic and free range and that has had a really wonderful life up until the very last moments."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alison Masemann.


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