By Bob Confer
Inflation has not been kind to families. What the heads of households purchase to feed and provide creature comforts to their kin costs 9.1% more than it did last year at this time.
That 9.1% is the overall inflation rate, but higher increases can be found with specific food items. Beef is up 12%. Pork is up 14%. Chicken is up 43%.
That make can for hard decisions at the grocery store and dinner table. Where do you find the money, what do you cut, to be able to enjoy meats? Do you downsize portions or do you go without?
Something that could go a long way in addressing this issue and tackling food insecurity is what some might see as on antiquated way of acquiring nourishment: hunting.
For hunters, I’m preaching to the choir, but to others it’s a new message. While Western New York is a hunting hotbed, providing dinner tables with wild game might not be normal practice for everyone. If you weren’t raised in a hunting family you might never have been exposed to wild harvests, and the very thought of quietly spending hours in a field or forest then dispatching an animal and cleaning it might not seem attractive to you.
But, that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. There are quite a few people in these parts who rely on others to do the hunting for them. It’s no different than buying eggs or milk from a farm local stand – you want the nutritious outcomes, but you would rather someone else be the chicken farmer or dairyman. Having others hunt gives you the easiest and cleanest route to enjoying local meats on the cheap.
This is the time of year when I suggest you reach out to a friend or family member who enjoys a good hunt and ask them to harvest for you. New York’s hunting licenses and deer management permits (“doe tags”) for the 2022 season went on sale last week. State law prevents hunters from selling their harvests to consumers, but they can freely give it away and many of them would gladly do so. Taking one or two deer can easily fill a freezer yet, after doing so, the hunter might find himself or herself with more tags (many deer management units will see multiple doe tags issued to hunters) and a strong desire to go back into the woods. If you ask your friend to fill their tag and give the meat to you, both parties get what they want.
It’s an affordable proposition. If you covered your friend’s doe permit ($10) and the cost to process the deer ($75 to $120 depending on the processor), let’s just say that’s $100 spent on what could be 50 pounds of meat from a fully-processed deer. At $2 a pound that comes in far below the cost of beef. For example, ground beef costs an average of $4.89/pound nationally. That’s huge savings. More can be seen when you compare finer cuts like tenderloin and steak against what you’d be paying at the grocery store. Your $2/pound venison steak fares nicely against a $7/pound beef steak.
Know, too, that the benefits of deer extend beyond the financial factor — it’s healthy and delicious, as well.
Because of deer having a more natural grass- and nut-fed diet, their meat is leaner and it features an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids, the same healthy and essential fats you get from wild fish. When comparing the ratios of Omega-6 (essential, but unhealthy in higher volume) to Omega-3 in deer to that of grain-fed cattle, you’re looking at numbers of 2:1 for deer versus beef cattle’s which ranges from 5:1 to 13:1. Venison also tends to be far higher in niacin and iron than beef, and it is a good source of B12, B6 and riboflavin. This all means venison is far and away a healthy alternative when considered as the “other red meat”.
Those who have never or only previously dabbled in venison (a steak here, an occasional burger there) might believe that the meat needs some special attention to be edible. It doesn’t and I would make the case that the meat is tastier and more versatile than deeply-fattened cuts of beef. I’m a big fan of it — my work lunches almost always consist of venison mixed with vegetables. And, for dinner, the occasional tenderloin, backstrap, or steak cooked on the grill is quite satisfying.
So, as inflation continues to wear down your food budget, consider becoming a hunter or reaching out to someone who is this month. They are preparing now for a deer harvest that will soon be upon us. There’s no better way to put some healthy, tasty, and affordable protein in your freezer and your belly, without breaking the bank.