On the Menu for Christmas Dinner: Roadkill

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Denali Delmar and her husband are cooking a Christmas feast this year: fresh vegetables from their garden and a venison roast, slow-cooked with onions, red wine, lemon zest, chicken broth and prunes. Sound good? There's one catch -- the venison is roadkill.

"We cut down our Christmas tree, have our own potatoes and carrots and roadkill venison for dinner," Delmar said. "It's really tender and delicious."

Delmar and her husband started eating roadkill after reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma," which details how animals are treated at factory farms.

"We are deeply offended by the way animals are treated in factory farms. We thought it made an awful lot of sense to harvest animals that have had terrific lives," Delmar said.

Delmar began raising chickens on her Westford, Mass., farm, and her husband took up bow hunting to live a more self-sufficient life in which they didn't have to rely on the meat sold in grocery stores.

"We eat a lot of local food, and we support the local farmers' market," Delmar said. "Others might call us locavores; we just call ourselves conscientious folks who are eating as healthy as we can."

In 2008, a winter drive sparked an idea.

"We were driving down the street and there was a police car pulled over because the car had hit a deer," Delmar said. "We talked to the cop, and he said that we couldn't have deer because there's a list for those who harvest roadkill."

The couple put their names on the list, and since 2009, they've been taking home deer that have been killed in car accidents. In their Massachusetts town, eight people are on the list, Delmar said.

Sandor Katz, the author of "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements," said that eating roadkill is nothing new.

"The idea of eating roadkill is certainly as old as the motor vehicle," Katz said.

The latest research by the Federal Highway Administration shows that each year there are between 1 million and 2 million car accidents involving wild animals.

Eating roadkill has become more popular, and it's even gone gourmet. There are cookbooks devoted to the meat.

In England, a man known as Fergus the Forager gives tours teaching people how to cook roadkill -- everything from badgers to squirrels to seagulls.

Katz said that eating roadkill is an increasingly viable alternative for those who object to the path animals take to get to the grocery store meat section. Katz, in his book, said that 250,000 animals are killed by cars each day.

"There are lots of valuable reasons to minimize or abstain from mass-produced commercial meat," Katz said. "One alternative is hunting. Another alternative is patronizing smaller-scale farms; another alternative is not eating meat; and yet another is to tap into the waste stream of animals killed by most vehicles."

Eating Roadkill For Christmas

For Delmar and her husband, one deer can equal 75 pounds of meat and a stocked freezer. This year, they've harvested two deer.

"It's a lot more healthful. These animals have not been given any growth hormones, any antibiotics. I think it's very pure," Delmar said.

After Delmar gets the call from police, and the deer is picked up, Delmar's husband guts the animal in their yard, and then they take it to a slaughterhouse where a butcher cuts and packages the meat.

The couple usually avoids taking roadkill during the summer because of the heat. They also use every part of the animal they can, even a bone to flavor soup.

So far, dinner party guests haven't objected to their meals.

"One of my friends ... said that we're having street meat," Delmar laughed.

For now, the baby boomer couple is sticking to deer as they're preferred roadkill, but Delmar admits other animals might be tempting.

"When I see squirrels getting in my garden trying to eat my produce, I look at their haunches and think that probably wouldn't be bad eating," she said.