Saving money on groceries is Penny Hoarding 101.
Your grocery bill is perhaps the most variable line item in your budget, and saving significant amounts of money doesn’t take too much time or effort — even if couponing isn’t your thing.
Some people do.
Yes, for real. It’s actually totally legal in a lot of states.
But before you head out to the highway with a shovel, there’s some stuff you need to know.
Listen, I know it sounds nuts.
But as you may know, meat’s expensive — even if you work hard to save money on it by shopping at wholesalers or using coupons.
Plus, the meat you buy in the grocery store can be a little gray — ethically speaking, that is.
Even if no amount of animal rights information would turn you vegan (in the words of my ex, “If cows didn’t want to be eaten, they shouldn’t have evolved to be so delicious”), it’s hard to ignore the huge, unnecessary carbon footprint of the typical American’s meat-heavy diet.
It takes 441 gallons of water to produce just one pound of boneless meat, according to a UC Davis study.
All of this to say nothing of the dangers of unsustainable factory farming — anyone remember Chipotle’s giant E. coli problem?
And forget grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic-and-hormone-free “happy meat.”
“If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs),” the New York Times reports.
Leveling cities to turn half the country’s land into pasture is not exactly “sustainable.”
Road-killed meat is as “organic” as it gets — and it’s already dead, so you’re not contributing to any carbon footprint or animal rights problems. You’re simply eliminating waste.
Starting to sound a little less crazy? Keep reading.
Is It Legal to Eat Roadkill Where You Are?
Since you’re already going to be breaching some pretty well-entrenched cultural norms, it might be best not to breach the law, too.
If you’re bold enough to eat roadkill, the first thing you’ll want to establish is whether or not it’s actually legal where you live.
Currently, maintenance workers are responsible for removing animal carcasses from the roadside. In some cases, the meat is donated to local Native American tribes.
Alaska also has a long-standing tradition of collecting road-killed moose meat for charity. It’s against the law for motorists to take it themselves.
But other states are more open-minded.
In Georgia, for example, you’re in the clear to collect the body of any native species — so long as you report road-killed black bears to the state.
In Ohio, you can collect deer, turkey, wild boars and feral hogs if you report them within 24 hours and get a permit.
States also distinguish between different types of animals and different body parts, which might not seem so strange when you consider the health concerns involved.
For instance, many big, hooved critters (think deer and elk) carry a neurological disorder called chronic wasting disease. So, some states place restrictions on their brains and nervous systems, if not their hides and antlers.
So the bottom line of the “Is it legal?” question is, “maybe, if you follow some rules.”
You’ll want to contact your state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to get up-to-date information.
And while you’re busy Googling “chronic wasting disease”…
Is Eating Roadkill Safe?
Here’s the thing: If you didn’t dispatch a deer or rabbit with your own vehicle — or watch someone in your immediate vicinity mess up their car instead — you don’t know how long the meat’s been sitting there.
It’s significantly easier to assess the edibility of an animal if you’re, say, a hunter.
But if your interactions with dead animals have been limited to flushing goldfish and considering different pre-wrapped cuts at the supermarket, things might get a little hairy.
Steven Rinella, hunter and author of “Meat Eater” — a chronicle about consuming wild game — made a useful suggestion to Missoulian magazine: If you find some roadkill that has fur, grab a handful and pull. If it comes off by the handful, maybe don’t make it into a stew.
Other warning signs include bloat, foul odor and swarming flies, but you’re facing a whole host of invisible risks, too.
Your critter might be infected with pathogens like E. coli, toxoplasmosis or worms — or the impact might’ve caused internal bleeding and spoiled the meat.
So the safety of road-killed meat is a little up in the air. And I don’t mean because you just hit it and sent it flying.
What Do You Do With Roadkill?
If you’re sure your roadkill’s of the highest and most edible quality, it’s time to make a commitment: Most states’ laws won’t allow you to take only parts of the animal.
You’re gonna have to lug the whole thing home and butcher it yourself.
Luckily, there are resources to help you figure it out — this is apparently a scenario people ask the internet about all the time. (Warning: the link is not for the faint of heart. Or those of you on your lunch break.)
You’ll want to complete this operation — and prepare or freeze the meat — as quickly as possible after the animal’s death to keep it fresh.
Speaking of preparation, are you finding yourself a little nervous about your opossum’s flavor?
You might want to get your hands on a quality wild game cookbook, as opposed to roadkill-specific ones, which are usually meant as a joke.
But you won’t necessarily need to go in for the masking powers of strong herbs and garlic.
Lots of road-killed meat is delicious, according to Jonathan McGowen — and he should know. He’s been eating it since he was 14.
Here’s what he told The Guardian:
“Rabbit is actually quite bland. Fox is far tastier; there’s never any fat on it, and it’s subtle, with a lovely texture, firm but soft. It’s much more versatile than beef, and has a salty, mineral taste rather like gammon. Frogs and toads taste like chicken and are great in stir-fries. Rat, which is nice and salty like pork, is good in a stir-fry, too – I’ll throw in celery, onion, peppers and, in autumn, wild mushrooms I’ve collected. Badger is not nice and hedgehog is hideous.”
So there you have it.
Next time you hit a fox or find the remnants of someone’s unfortunate run-in with a deer, you might consider your grocery trip finished.
No need to invite me over for dinner, though.
Your Turn: Would you eat roadkill? Let us know in the comments. Seriously, we want to know.
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. The most exotic meat she’s ever eaten is ostrich, and that was at a Fuddruckers, so basically she has no sense of adventure.