Donating Venison For The Needy

I’ve always been a big advocate of using as much of a game animal as possible, but this year I am somewhat concerned about the new Minnesota Department of Agriculture rules that allow hunters to donate game to local food shelves.

Don’t get me wrong, helping out the hungry is always a worthwhile effort, but I have to wonder if there is a reason why some meat is being donated in the first place.

Back in the early 80’s when I was attending college at the University of Minnesota, I was largely undecided about my major so I took several classes in the area of meat science. By no means do I consider myself an expert, but the fundamental understanding I received about meat handling and processing was eye-opening, to say the least.

I soon discovered there is no substitute for proper meat handling, that is why the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 was signed by Theodore Roosevelt. Before certain standards of quality were in place, the meat industry was rampant with companies doing anything to save a buck, even if it meant putting the consumer at great public health risk. The primary motivating factor of the meat processors during the early years in this century was money, not the good of the public health. Thankfully times have changed and expectations of what we demand in quality meat have likewise been much enhanced.

One of the nice things about shooting and handling a deer yourself is the fact you personally know the meat’s history. You know if the eviscerating processes (or for those of you who are a bit uncouth – gutting) was done carefully, you know if the meat was kept at proper ageing (or denaturing) temperatures before processing, you know if dirt and moisture have been kept away from the carcass to prevent contamination. In other words, you know…or should know…if the deer is fit to eat.

When I go in to my local locker plant during deer season it amazes me how some hunters care for their meat. As someone who is ultra-finicky about the way my meat is handled I would venture to say that at least half of the venison carcasses in the cooler would be rejected by this discriminating sportsman. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of hunters out there who don’t know the first thing about handling a downed game animal. They’ve either learned poor techniques from their hunting elders or they never taken the time to understand proper game care principles.

I think if you would get most butchers to admit it, they would tell you that a large number of deer that come in for processing simply do not meet good meat handling standards. Problem is, are they going to turn away the chance to make money if they know they will not be eating it? I don’t think so…most will just trim away the worst areas and process the rest.

This brings me back to the reason why a hunter might want to donate his deer to a local food shelf. If the family doesn’t like wild game and all the hunter wants is a stick of sausage, that is one thing. But what concerns me is if the hunter is simply passing off the meat because deep down he knows it isn’t fit to eat, well…that is quite another story. Even with meat inspection it can be difficult to determine if the meat is truly fit for human consumption. It’s not like inspecting a hog or a beef animal that has hung in a temperature-controlled cooler since slaughter.

I do think that hunters should have the ability to donate venison to the needy, but it should be done under some different guidelines. First, the hunter should have to pay for the processing so it is truly a donation (out of pocket). Second, the hunter should not be allowed to donate the entire animal so there is still the incentive for the hunter to practice proper handling techniques because he/she is keeping some of the meat.

Indeed, whether you donate Hides For Habitat (a Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Program) or choose to donate venision to the local food shelf, both causes are noble. My only hope is that the meat donation is being done for the right reasons.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.