Venison (pictured) is the meat from a deer. It represents a wild food that is still part of many rural people’s diet in the northeast (and elsewhere). Venison, called otuhkey (pronounced uh-doo-KAY) by one indigenous group of Maine, is a red meat that presents a different flavor than beef. Some describe it as “gamey”, though I would politely argue it simply tastes different. Aside from certain select cuts, venison is usually a bit chewier than the beef many have become used to. Therefore, those who enjoy this animal food usually prepare it slightly differently (depending on the cut of meat). One way to deal with those portions of meat that are tougher is grinding (as in the picture), which takes care of the extra chewing, making for a soft burger that can be enjoyed by anyone.
Venison is always described as a lean meat. This leads people to believe that deer don’t produce fat (or at least not much). They do, and in the autumn, those animals that are not constantly battling each other have copious amounts of highly saturated, white fat. The difference is the fat mostly encases the muscle meat rather than being marbled throughout out it (as in a grain-fed cow). Therefore, deer is not a lean animal all year round (and anyone who has butchered deer will realize this). Anyone who is practicing the paleo diet and is interested in some amount of historical accuracy will want to realize this—paleo humans did consume large amounts of animal fat (and fatty organs) when it was available to them. We always keep this fat, rendering some for cooking and including some with the ground venison (ultra-lean burgers are not as enjoyable, to me, as those with some fat mixed in). Some of you reading this are probably thinking I’m committing nutritional suicide by consuming the fat. It is a bigger topic than I can address here, but let me reassure you I’m consuming the fat intentionally (and with awareness of its real health benefits).
Nutritionally, venison is high in some B-complex vitamins (B1, B3, B6, and B12) and relatively rich in some minerals (e.g., iron, phosphorous, zinc, selenium). For what it is worth, this is what your body does with some of these minerals. Zinc is needed for the formation of muscles and connective tissue, it is required for healthy male reproductive organs, and is necessary for proper mental development (among many other purposes). In fact, Zinc deficiency during pregnancy can lead to birth defects—it is a necessary cofactor of folate, a critical B-vitamin for a developing fetus. Selenium is a very special mineral that is needed for a healthy heart, skin, and immune system. Selenium works synergistically with vitamin E, working as antioxidants, and protects the body from toxins and radiation. From an essential fatty acid perspective, deer meat has a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of 2.8 to 1, making it a healthful food that will not lead to inflammation (as does grain-fed beef).
Of course, if you utilize the organ meats, you can derive even greater levels of nourishment. The wonderful thing about butchering your own animals is that you can utilize all of the items that game butchers throw away. This includes the fat (which you can also use for lanterns and soap-making), the tendons for primitive archery, the larger bones as a source of marrow (a delicacy in some of the finer restaurants these days), the hide along with the brains (for brain-tanned buckskin; read about it here), and so on. Suffice to say, learning how to fully utilize an animal is smart, saves you money, and fully honors that animal that has lost its life to nourish yours. Venison has been used by indigenous people of this continent for countless generations, people who lived relatively free of chronic disease and could produce healthy, well-formed children (prior to adopting the diet and lifestyle of the European colonists). This food has a long history of traditional use and modern scientific analysis to support it as a beneficial food. This is not even considering the time spent in nature moving, interacting with the elements, and tracking by those who hunt the animals they consume. For those fortunate enough to enjoy venison as part of their diet, I hope you offer gratitude to this beautiful animal.