You might think, judging by the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame, that everyone in Louisiana hunts, fishes, and eats wild game meat. At least, that’s what I thought. As Jase once explained, “I don’t eat meat that comes from a store. It makes me nervous.” And you can’t blame him.
So it was with a great amount of surprise that I read several articles I received from readers during the past couple of weeks, concerning a homeless shelter in Louisiana that was forced to destroy 1,600 pounds of donated venison. This deer meat had been given to the shelter by hunters, through various programs such as Hunters for the Hungry. There was nothing wrong with it, except that the Department of Health decided it shouldn’t be fed to homeless people.
Now, to be clear, shelters all over the country feed donated game meat to those who come to them for free meals. That’s been going on for a long time. The particular shelter in question, the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission, has been using donated deer meat, according to executive director Henry Martin, for years. They use it for chili, spaghetti, and other stuff.
But a while back someone being fed at the rescue mission complained that the meal provided, free of charge, was made from deer meat. And the controversy began.
Now, you might think someone who was getting a free meal would not be particularly picky. You would, evidently, be wrong. It would seem to me that, if someone offers me something out of the goodness of their heart, and doesn’t require me to repay them in any way, I can take it or nicely refuse it, but I don’t have a right to complain about it. I guess that’s not the way it is in America anymore, though. Beggars, apparently, can now be choosers.
So the Dept. of Health and Hospitals swooped down on the mission like a typical governmental swooping agency, and said venison could not be fed to homeless people anymore. The mission folks asked if they could at least return the meat to those who had donated it, so it wouldn’t go to waste. The Dept. of Health said no, it had to be destroyed.
In an email to Fox News, a Dept. of Health official said, “Deer meat is not permitted to be served in a shelter, restaurant, or any other public eating establishment in Louisiana. While we applaud the good intentions of the hunters who donated this meat, we must protect the people who eat at the Rescue Mission, and we cannot allow a potentially serious health threat to endanger the public.”
Bear in mind that the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission operates entirely on donations. It doesn’t receive a penny from any governmental agency. The shelter provides 200,000 meals a year to the homeless. The venison in question was valued at $8,000, and would have provided up to 3,200 meals.
The Dept. of Health people took the meat out to the mission’s dumpsters, slit open the packages, and poured bleach all over it. They said that was to keep animals from eating it, and possibly getting sick.
Now, I understand the reasoning behind a rule that deer meat can’t be served in restaurants, to paying customers. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. But we’re not talking about paying customers here. We’re talking about homeless people, who can’t afford to feed themselves. Besides, they aren’t forced to eat the deer meat. It’s not like they’re prison inmates. They can decline if they want. They have a choice.
Not only that, but venison is actually healthier than beef. Three ounces of venison has 134 calories and 3 grams of fat, on average, compared with 259 calories and 18 grams of fat in the same amount of beef. Venison is high in protein, zinc, selenium (whatever that is), and iron, and has no carbohydrates at all.
As much as I hate research, I’ve tried to find a case of a human getting sick from eating deer meat, and I’ve come up blank. I’m sure it’s happened, but I’d be willing to bet that when it did, the type of meat was not the culprit. I imagine it was the way the meat was stored, handled, or prepared that caused the problem, and the same could happen with beef or any other meat.
Predicatbly, this incident has caused an uproar among hunters. Richard Campbell, one of the founders of Hunters for the Hungry, said, “Hunters are going nuts over it. It’s created an outrage across our state and even over into Mississippi.” And well it should.
Louisiana state Rep. Jeff Thompson hopes to change the law. “As a hunter and somebody who has personally donated deer to this program, I’m outraged and very concerned,” Thompson said. He called the incident insulting, and plans to meet with the heads of state agencies and lawmakers to fix the problem.
Public health is definitely in danger, but not from venison. It’s in danger from officials who believe that if the government doesn’t do it, it shouldn’t be done.
That makes me nervous . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never shot a deer he didn’t like. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org