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Can You Eat Roadkill and Still Call Yourself Vegetarian?

Can You Eat Roadkill and Still Call Yourself Vegetarian?

Okay, ewwww. Let’s just get that out of the way. That’s my initial reaction to the idea of eating roadkill, and it’s probably yours as well. Not because I don’t eat meat, which I don’t, but because, well…. ewwww.

Of course, when I think of “roadkill” I think first of squished squirrels and mushed skunks. That’s where the “ewww” factor comes from, not to mention the automatic “poor little fella” reaction that hits me every time I see a roadside victim.

If you can get past the “ick” factor, though, there’s a serious issue under discussion in several states. Should it be legal to let people claim and possibly eat animals killed in highway accidents? An interesting side question for vegetarians and vegans is whether it could be acceptable for them to eat roadkill, if they were so inclined.

Eating Roadkill is Already Legal in Many States

An estimated 100 million animals are killed each year along our nation’s roadways.  That’s a heck of a lot of animals.  I’ve hit a few of them myself, including a deer, and it has always been because there was just no time to react.

In a growing number of states it’s actually legal to take roadkill off the highway and, if you want, eat it. While some roadkill salvagers just want the hides or the deer heads for trophy mounts, a significant number of people have become interested in eating the whole deer.

Some of the state laws on roadkill include these:

  • Montana: Legalized claiming deer, elk, antelope and moose roadkill in 2013. Need a permit within 24 hours from the state.
  • Florida: No permit, no tag needed. Just take the carcass home and it’s yours.
  • Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin: It’s legal to take home car-struck deer, though you may need a state-issued tag to do so.
  • New Jersey: Permit required to possess roadkill.
  • West Virginia: Roadkill must be reported to the state within 12 hours of its collection.
  • Georgia: No need to report deer, but must report bears.
  • Vermont: You need a permit to keep a roadkilled deer, but not a beaver.
  • Massachusetts: Must obtain a permit after the fact and submit your roadkill to inspection by the state.
  • Illinois: Unless you’re delinquent on your child support payments, you can claim a dead roadside deer. (Curious incentive to pay up, isn’t it?)
  • Alaska: All roadkill belongs to the state, which feeds it to needy families.
  • Texas, California, Tennessee and Washington: Possessing roadkill is still illegal.

Is Roadkill “the Most Ethical Meat”?

Within the non-meat-eating world, there’s a definite difference of opinion on whether roadkill is a suitable meal for vegetarians and vegans.

Rutgers University professor and animal activist Gary Francione takes a hard line stance on this question.

“Being vegan means that you reject the notion that animals are things for us to consume,” Francione says on his website, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach. “They are not commodities; they are not resources. They are not food any more than a human arm that you find in the dumpster.”

The folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are somewhat more forgiving. They’d rather you don’t eat meat, but if you do, they say make it roadkill:

Eating roadkill is healthier for the consumer than meat laden with antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants, as most meat is today. It is also more humane in that animals killed on the road were not castrated, dehorned, or debeaked without anesthesia, did not suffer the trauma and misery of transportation in a crowded truck in all weather extremes, and did not hear the screams and smell the fear of the animals ahead of them on the slaughter line. Perhaps the animals never knew what hit them.

PETA, ever in search of useful publicity, sent a sexy cowgirl-clad representative onto the streets of Helena, Montana with vegan jerky samples when that state was in the throes of deciding whether to legalize roadkill consumption. PETA calls roadkill “meat without murder.”

“The point of the demonstration was to communicate their opposition to eating meat, but if people can’t resist the taste they should consider eating roadkill because it’s more humane,” PETA campaigner Matt Bruce told KRTV Channel 3 news.

What if Eating Roadkill Advances the Vegan/Vegetarian Cause?

James McWilliams, vegan, author, and professor of history at Texas State University, says eating roadkill is not justifiable, but can be considered excusable:

[The k]illers are innocent and the meat is incidental to unintended vehicular propulsion. Counties and municipalities do a lot of ridiculous things with roadkill—incineration, feeding to zoo animals, and burying. A case could be made that turning these dead animals into sausage and underselling factory farms is a better option than all of these.

Prof. McWilliams suggests an interesting proposition. Vegans and vegetarians, if eating roadkill could really put a dent in the meat production side of the factory farming business, would your perspective on roadkill cuisine change? You might not ever eat roadkill yourselves, but would you be more amenable to seeing meat-eaters do more of it?

Go ahead, discuss amongst yourselves. That’s what the comment section is for, after all.

Eating roadkill — yea, nay, or ew?

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6:16AM PDT on Sep 9, 2015

thanks for the article.

4:26AM PST on Nov 27, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

6:43AM PST on Feb 3, 2014

Could one who eats meat in the form of poor dead street animals still be considered vegetarian? Of course not. Animals are animals regardless of how they are killed and maimed. Vegetarians do not eat dead animals. As a nearly lifelong ethical vegetarian, consuming the flesh, tendons, fat, gristle and other ugly facets of meat wouldn't simply disappear and suddenly become "okay" whether the animal was brutally slaughtered in a blood house, blasted by a shotgun or battered and broken by a car.

Besides, promoting such a concept might just appeal to the basest instincts of some people who could "justify" in their own minds cruelly running down an animal they might otherwise swerve to avoid. I am not naive or trusting enough to believe people will do the right, compassionate thing when it comes to animal lives. If crushing an innocent animal just trying to live does nothing to the conscience, another consideration might be human health. We live in a rural area where local grass, grains and native fruits are routinely sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. No "natural" health advantage there. The whole roadkill consumption concept is a societal giant leap backwards.

4:36AM PST on Jan 31, 2014


3:40PM PST on Jan 29, 2014

There are many opinions on this that could be bandied about (is it disgusting or not/should it be done/is it more ethical/etc) but there's one that's really not up for debate, and that is: No, you cannot eat roadkill and still call yourself a vegetarian.

Vegetarians do not eat meat. Period. They don't eat red meat, white meat, seafood, ethically sourced meat, roadkill, whatever. If it was once an animal, vegetarians don't eat it. There seems to be a bit of confusion over this, and I don't understand why. If you eat meat of any kind, you are not a vegetarian. Simple. Just the same as if you eat eggs or dairy then you aren't a vegan.

As a vegetarian myself, I get asked CONSTANTLY, "Oh, but you eat fish, right? And chicken?" No. No I don't. I'm a vegetarian. I'm fed up with people saying, "I'm a vegetarian. Oh, but fish is fine." Well, sorry, but you're not a vegetarian. And that's not a bad thing or a good thing or a thing that anyone but you can judge or make a decision about, but you aren't a vegetarian if you eat meat. The end.

2:01PM PST on Jan 29, 2014

A vegetarian or vegan doesn't eat meat of any variety (not even fish as a few people I know who claim to be vegetarian).

As far as eating road kill, if it is freshly killed (and hasn't been sitting along the highway) I can't see any reason if someone wants to claim the meat to stop them. And no, PETA, it doesn't mean that the animal has not suffered. Many do NOT die immediately and I call that suffering. I personally have no intention of claiming road kill because (among other reasons) I don't know how to process it correctly and safely.

4:47AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

I (still) eat meat from time to time, but I would never eat road kill, the thought of having to clean the animal etc, just makes me feel so bad...yes, I know that the meat I do buy has to be killed and cleaned too..

6:02PM PST on Jan 24, 2014

As a vegan, I don't eat meat so I wouldn't eat eat road kill. And anyone who does is neither a vegetarian nor vegan.

10:01AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

En France aussi, des personnes ramassent des animaux morts sur la route. Ces personnes ne font aucun mal, ils se trouvent à manger tout simplement. Mais moi, je n' en mangerais pas. Quand je vois un animal mort sur la route, cela me rend très triste.

7:24AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

Leslea, I have also been food insecure. Thankfully, I was able to address that in some creative ways and remain a vegetarian in the Northeastern US. One can grow vegetables (even without a yard) and save seeds and grow on the windowsill in winter and store roots, and other solutions. There is a great deal of protein in beans, sprouts and other veggies.

That said, I recognize that my options may not be available in all regions of the world, and what one must do in a true survival situation can differ from what one would ordinarily do, pushing our moral boundaries. As you say, morality may change. And, as you aptly point out, survival may also mean taking a human life.

Sadly, most modern carnivores do not each meat for survival and the suffering inflicted by the modern food supply system (as you also point out) is great. Hunting operates outside of that system, and is preferable to factory farming in the event that one must kill. Consuming unintentionally killed road kill may be preferable still. However...

As long as I can survive without taking animal or human life, I will. As it stands, I not only survive, but thrive without meat. For this I am grateful. I wish you well. Your arguments are thoughtful, even if we disagree. I differ from some of the other vegetarians who posted in that I think the road-kill conversation is worth having. Let's be respectful, all.

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