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Nov 23, 2022

Eating Game: Good for us? And the planet?

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Is it true what they say? That game is one of the most sustainable things you can eat?

In some cases, no – the management of some grouse moors, for instance, leaves much to be desired. On these moors, gamekeepers shoot, snare, and poison protected birds of prey, such as buzzards, hen harriers, and kites. They also burn vegetation en-masse, which might provide an ideal environment for grouse to propagate, but does little to support various other species and work away from what environmentalists call a monoculture.

In some other cases, though, yes – eating game can be as sustainable and nature-friendly as they say. The absence of predators has meant deer numbers could easily spiral out of control, hampering woodland conservation and destabilising native species – Muntjac deer, introduced from South Asia, is public enemy number one in that regard – but culling efforts are helping keep deer populations in check, while also providing a source of chemical and hormone-free meat virtually untouched by human interference.

Venison

Not all venison is created equal, though. Beware the farmed deer that’s intensively reared on soya pellets, in overgrazed pastures, and reliant on routine use of antibiotics. A large proportion of the venison sold in UK supermarkets is from deer raised on New Zealand farms, mostly because they don’t have the same limitations as those imposed on UK agricultural systems.

At the moment, HG Walter’s venison is from The Crown’s Windsor Estate, while game birds such as mallard, partridge, and pheasant are via Medstead Meats. “All our birds are from very local shoots in Hampshire, which means low food miles and a low carbon footprint,” says Emily Voice, Medstead Meat’s co-director. “The birds wander freely in their natural habitat and their culling season is limited in order to protect species and allow them to develop and breed.”

Feathered and furred game have been managed in the same sort of way for almost a millennia. Not long after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, laws were enacted to protect animals ‘of the chase’ and their respective habitats. “Many woodlands today exist because of game conservation,” says Emily. “Where shooting takes place, the woodlands are managed in order to protect the birds and encourage natural breeding.”

Where consuming game from such sources is of benefit to planetary health, so too is it for our personal health. Venison, for instance, is significantly lower in cholesterol than beef but is just as high in vitamins such as B12. And, like most other birds, pheasant and grouse are much leaner than other forms of meat, while bringing their own distinctive advantages – though chicken contains more protein, for example, pheasant possesses higher levels of iron.

Game meats also fulfil a certain niche in the home cook's repertoire, as they’re generally more nutritionally dense and richer in flavour – especially when hung to mature – making them well-suited to the colder months in which they are available.

Perhaps, then, it goes without saying – should seasonality be applied to meat, game is the quintessential example of that. Could that be why it’s not so obvious a choice over what’s available year-round? Maybe it suffers more from its ‘rich man’s hobby’ stigma. Whatever the case, from the right sources game can be a nutritious by-product of a land well managed.