Cry havoc

This is really a story about restaurants being shut rather than damage to woodlands. It’s a bit difficult to believe that a couple of years of low culling of deer in woodlands is going to make that much difference to their ecological status. If so, it suggests that there is far too close a link between high prices on restaurant menus and culling rather than a strong link between ecology and culling.

Notice that apart from a quote from the RSPB on the general impact of deer numbers, the quotes all come from the food chain rather than ecological interests.

I’m all for us munching our way through the deer population at a higher rate – I’m doing my bit as venison, shot in woodland by foresters with lead-free ammunition, forms a large proportion of the small amount of meat that I eat. Our supply of venision has been interrupted by COVID-19 as we haven’t seen our friends who usually give us venison as a Christmas present.

We ought to be eating more venison, and it ought to be cheap. Lead-free venison should form a larger part of school and hospital meals and be less of an overpriced meal in posh restaurants.

By the way, if you ever do see venison on a menu then I recommend doing the following: ask which species of deer it is. I have yet to find a waiter who can answer that question and sometimes it stumps even the chef and owner. That says volumes about our relationship with food. Sometimes you are told that it is Red Deer but then the next question often leads to blank faces; is it farmed or wild Red Deer? Only once (in Pitlochry) has a restaurant ever answered those two questions and the third, for me: was it shot with lead or non-toxic ammunition? If someone trying to sell you meat at their restaurant can’t tell you whether there is poison in it, then you should opt for the vegetarian option after all.

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10 Replies to “Cry havoc”

  1. It's my experience too. Frequently even the butcher doesn't know. The size of the carcase ought to be a clue. If the entire thing fits into a burger bun, it's probably a muntjac.

  2. They're wreaking havoc regardless of Covid and lack of culling this year will make minimal difference to a 50+ year old problem - especially as the biggest culler, the Forestry Commission in its various forms, culls for management not money, and I'm sure the same applies to RSPB.
    But, as Mark points out, it is an interesting comment on our increasingly restricted diet, with Venison now mainly (and actually increasing) restaurant rather than home dish. To what extent is it our increasing detachment from where our food comes from or the intent of the food industry that our diet seems to be narrowing year by year ? We eat a lot of offal - mainly chicken & calves liver which is almost free, presumably because the demand compared to the red meat cuts is so low.

    1. I had my first ever proper taste of venison a few days before Xmas when my German neighbour kindly gave me some she'd been sent from home. Even with my limited culinary skills it took only a couple of bites for me to get used to the taste and find it absolutely bloody delicious, my mouth is watering as I type this. I have a vision of the future where the local butcher shop deals primarily in wild animals that had to be legitimately/unavoidably culled - rabbits, wood pigeon, deer and as time goes on wild boar and even beaver. Meat would become an occasional treat, but the quality might go a long way to compensate for a reduction in quantity. And good for you Roderick in using parts of the animal too many reject - if an animal is killed for food then it's a waste and sin that what is fit for human consumption is not used. I'll snap up calf livers and lamb kidneys when they all too often hit the reduced for quick sale section, but my crap cooking skills don't make the most of them I fear.

  3. Seems like a good summary of the capitalist system. Here we have a source of healthy, given it has been shot with lead free ammo.,ethically raised meat. Eating this meat would be good for UK citizens, some of whom find ends hard to meet, and the forests. Yet because posh restaurants can not sell it at inflated prices due to covid restrictions the animals are not shot, the woods and forests risk more damage and this meat is not available at reasonable price to the ordinary citizen. Interestingly Professor Richard Wolff's latest economic update discusses externalities in the capitalist system

  4. A restaurant - there's a distant memory ...

    I doubt anyone trying to sell me anything in a restaurant would ever be able to tell me with any certainty that there were no potential poisons in it. This would be particularly true if I was considering a vegetarian meal, as I occasionally do. Hoping for pigeon ragout but disappointed by unavailability, I opted for a plate of gnocci. Or constipation on a plate as I now call it. But that is just an uncomfortable passing inconvenience compared to a dose of salmonella or E. coli from salad sprouts or baby leaves, so I guess I was just lucky.

    I would eat more venison and pigeon if I could get it and I think everyone should, on the basis of increasing the resource efficiency of farm crops. I would not object to muntjac - but I would pass on the bun.

  5. Slightly related; I remembered reading about the disconnect between culling effort and venison price so I've tracked it down for you. Might be slightly interesting apropos your blog today.

  6. I dont pretend to understand it all, but as with feathered game , there was always a great disparity between the price " at the farm gate", and on the restaurant plate, which has only increased of late.
    Game dealers have their fixed costs, whatever the end market, so to carry on collecting, processing, and keeping carcasses in cold storage will only create an excess which will presumably affect prices even when normal service resumes, if ever.

  7. I can imagine the high price and lack of harvesting for ecological reasons due to the difficulty/cost of harvesting large numbers.

  8. There used to be a place which farmed red deer on the road from Pitlochry to Aberfeldy [via Tummel Bridge]. I don't know whether it is still there though.

  9. PS looking at the figures venison in a restaurant is likely to be farmed. If you want to help the cull get it yourself and enjoy a restaurants different veggie menu.


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