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.
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?
[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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