Monday, March 11, 2013

Roadkill consumption laws as a reflection of rural culture

"Doubling back for roadkill" was the headline of a New York Times editorial this past week-end.  It began:
Squirrel gravy is such a delicacy in Appalachia that there is a RoadKill Cook-off each year in the hollows of West Virginia. Lawmakers in Montana get the drift. The lower house of the Montana Legislature recently approved a measure that would allow citizens to salvage fresh roadkill and take it home for dinner.
The editors go on to explain that the Montana vote was 95-to-3.  If the Montana senate agrees, Montana will join five other states (Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois and West Virginia) which permit the salvaging of roadkill under relevant health and safety regulations.  The editorial features some rich detail, including this quote from the Montana state trooper/legislator, Steve Lavin, who introduced the bill:
There's a lot of good meat being wasted out there.  
The editorial estimates that 6,000 deer were killed by vehicles in Montana (not to mention about 500 elk, moose, antelope, bears and mountain lions) in 2011, and it ends with this blurb about a Durango, Colorado "lawyer, hunter and roadkill connoisseur," Matt Kenna, who spoke to Bloomberg News for their recent story about these roadkill laws. Kenna says he  
carries game-dressing equipment in his car and takes home about $1,800 worth of fresh meat each year. His favorite roadside treat, he said, is elk steak marinated in Italian dressing.
The Bloomberg story, which is quite lengthy and detailed, notes that, in many states--even where the practice of salvaging road kill is not legally sanctioned--law enforcement officers often invite food banks to pick up the animals if, that is, they don't offer it to the folks who turned it into roadkill.   

I'm not clear on the extent to which the Times editors are poking fun at the practice of salvaging roadkill, but another roadkill story from 1999, dateline Nashville, Tennessee, played up the laws' potential for humor. The story, "Statehouse Journal; A Road-Kill Proposal is Food for Jokesters" begins:
If only the bill had contained the word ''deer,'' then perhaps the possum jokes could have been stopped flat. If the bill had just made it clear that someone who hits a deer on the highway can take home the carcass and eat it, then maybe Tennessee would have been spared all the raccoon cookbooks, the dead-skunk songs, the bumper stickers, the sniggering headlines, the laughter that has lighted up the Legislature for the last few weeks. 
But no. With an unerring genius for the kind of thing that makes many Tennesseans squirm, the author of the bill decided to phrase it this way: ''Wild animals accidentally killed by a motor vehicle may be possessed by any person for personal use and consumption.''
Sarcasm or the lack thereof aside, one thing seems clear from this week-end's editorial:  Saturday must have been a very slow news day.  

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