We have all seen those survivor shows where someone enters the wild and tells you how to live in crazy scenarios. There eventually comes the point where the host has to eat, and they show you what to do in that situation. It may not surprise you, but the average person should not follow some examples.
Eating raw meat is a culinary staple in many cultures, and in some ways, it is common today, such as sushi and rare steaks. However, in this article, we will cover why you should not eat meat off a fresh kill in the wild, the health issues it can cause, and a rule of thumb for what is edible out there in the woods if appropriately prepared. It will also include some quotes from two doctors interviewed specifically about eating raw meat.
Why You Should Not Eat Wild Meat Raw
Eating raw meat is bad. It may seem redundant to say it, but some out there see it as a viable option. The risks only go higher if you try to eat something you have trapped or hunted out in the wild. Much of the meat we eat in restaurants or buy in grocery stores, while still raw, has been treated or kept in a way to keep it and us safe.
A chicken you buy at a local market is going to have fewer parasites, bacteria, and other contaminants than a bird you shot out of the sky last weekend hunting with your friends. While it is still dangerous to consume raw poultry from the store, it is even more challenging to do so with a bird from the woods.
This same logic goes across the board for animals and not just fowl. Deer, elk, boar, and fish can also contain harmful things to the human body. Wild animals may appear healthy, but their bodies have developed ways to stay alive and repel many of the things inside them that would stop a human dead in their tracks. Eating their meat raw is just inviting anything living inside that animal to move on inside you.
How to Eat Raw Meat in the Wild if Needed
If absolutely pushed to the brink of starvation and survival and need to eat something raw, your best option is fish. Not freshwater or migratory fish, though, because they have a very high chance of housing tapeworms and getting one of those inside you will do a lot of damage. Your best bet is saltwater fish.
If you are not near a saltwater source and living until tomorrow is in question unless you eat, then raw meat from anything with feathers or fur is permissible as long as you follow a few guidelines. You have to eat the meat right away. Eating fresh raw meat dramatically decreases the chances of getting sick from the meat. There is no storing the kill for later as rot and bacteria will kick in right away.
Inspect the meat for any cysts or other maladies on the surface. You can even spot and remove parasites from the meat in many instances if you are observant and take your time. Be sure to properly butcher and clean out the animal to avoid the spilling of vile or waste from the organs and tainting the meat.
Eat what you need right away and leave the rest. Try to stick with eating herbivores as carnivores are more likely to have meat infected or harmful to humans. They eat other animals and may have scavenged a kill that would have contaminants potentially deadly to people.
Dr. Lisa Young, New York City nutritionist, author, and adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, says in her interview with The Guardian, "...you're still going to have the risk of ingesting pathogens. With raw meats, you always have a heightened risk of contamination"(Can We Stomach...).
Young's quote here is said to reiterate that even though some of us eat raw meat, we do it at our own risks.
She states earlier in the interview, "Eating raw meat is not recommended by nutritionists."
These notes are to be used if there is no other choice: a life-or-death situation. No matter how fresh the meat, there is still a chance of food poisoning and, in extreme cases, death. However, eating raw meat one day to survive the next is a viable short-term solution as long as you are able to get medical treatment.
Why can Animals Eat Raw Meat but People Can't?
In many survival circles, the rule of thumb is to follow the animals' lead in the area, and you can survive. If they are drinking from a water source, then it must be safe for people to drink. This logic can work for a couple of scenarios, but you have to be very mindful when it comes to food. Many animals have specialized diets, and their bodies have been designed to eat things that were not meant for humans.
In terms of carnivores, their bodies and digestive tracks are a lot tougher than that of a person. Their stomach acid is way more acidic and can kill parasites and bacteria that would find our bodies a very suitable environment for them.
When it comes to food-borne illnesses, animals often live and suffer through them until they die, or their body adapts. That does not seem like a route I would want to go down.
Differences in Raw Meat in the Wild and at the Market
As stated above, plenty of dishes worldwide include raw meat like tuna, beef tartar, and sushi. There are reasons these dishes have persisted and are deemed safe for people to eat. Below we will discuss the differences between wild meat and what is sold by farms.
There are branches of governments and organizations located across the globe to ensure food is safe for consumption. That means the meat you and I purchase at the store has been vetted and monitored from the time the animal was born to the time the meat was placed in the cooler at your local grocery store.
That means the animal was taken care of its whole life. It was fed, taken care of, and given a place to sleep. Even the food fed to them is checked to make sure it is safe not only for the animal but also for humans who will be eating the animal.
The animal is fed things to kill bacteria, parasites, and numerous other harmful things. Even on farms that take care of animals in more naturalistic ways, keep the cattle and fowl in safe and sanitary conditions for the animals' health. The animals on these farms are looked after and observed for anything that can cause illness to them that can carry over to the human populace.
Wild animals are simply that, wild. They are out in nature, and they are exposed to a myriad of parasites, bacteria, and diseases that can be harmful to them and us. There is no regulation of observation on what they eat or where they go.
The very thing that makes them wild is what makes them dangerous for us to consume. Even in terms of raw, the meat from the market is safer than eating the meat of a wild animal.
What Can Happen If You Eat Raw Meat
Eating raw meat can lead to a list of various health issues for people. Some can lead to minor discomfort. Others can be as extreme as causing death. This is why many health experts say you should not eat meat that is not adequately prepared and cooked.
Dr. Beth Myer-Davis, Chair of the Nutrition Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says, in the same interview: " Inherently, there's not a reason that eating raw meat in and of itself would automatically create any problems. What you would need to think about would be contamination in terms of pathogens..." (Can We Stomach...).
So, in other words, the meat itself is not the issue, but the things it can carry or be hosted to are the problem. That said, the pathogens found in raw meat can cause serious issues, especially if the illnesses are left untreated.
The most common food-borne diseases from raw meat:
• E. coli which causes diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.
• Trichinosis is a roundworm infection you can get by eating pork or the meat of a carnivore. This can look a lot like E.coli in the early stages, but if the larva makes it to the bloodstream, it can cause muscle pain, fatigue, headache, and facial swelling.
• Salmonella is the most common form of food bacteria and is found in poultry and fish. It causes no change in sight, smell, or taste of the meat it infects, making it almost impossible to detect. This is the main reason why these meats need to be cooked. It can cause stomach pain, cramping, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting.
• Tapeworm is a type of parasite you can get from ingesting either the larva or eggs of a tapeworm. The eggs can attach to your organs and create cysts that permeate the tissue. The larva will grow inside and attach the lining or the organs and produce more eggs. They can live up to 30 years inside a person making eggs the entire time.
Symptoms vary depending on where the tapeworm and eggs attach too, but they can cause organ damage and weight loss, loss of appetite, craving for salt, dizziness, and various other symptoms.
These are just a few of the illnesses and infections you can get from eating raw meat. If you have eaten raw, undercooked, or wild meat and have any of the above symptoms, we suggest you see your doctor right away for treatment.
Fur and Feather Over Scales and Such
This rule of thumb applies to land animals. I am not sure what you would want to eat from the water with fur or feathers. Simply put, if you are going to catch something to eat, then stick with mammals and fowls. This also comes with the caveat that you are cooking the meat as well.
Even in terms of raw though then the rule still applies. Mammals and fowl worldwide are known not to be venomous, the platypus being the exception. So, if you catch anything in the wild with fur or feathers, you can eat it.
Once cooked, their meat is edible and, on occasion, very tasty. This can also include carnivores and scavengers. The one animal you would want to stay clear of is the vulture. Vultures survive by eating the remains of already dead animals meaning their meat will be riddled with bacteria and such that they have become immune to but can make people sick and leave their meat with a sour taste.
Many people will say insects are excellent sources of protein and such, and lizards have their own merits for nutrition. Still, many people are not familiar enough with these animals to make safe decisions. There is a great deal of lizards, snakes, and amphibians that are poisonous or unsafe to eat, even in the US.
The same can be said for insects and arachnids. They should never be eaten raw, especially if you cannot identify them. You would have to eat a great deal of them to attain enough nutrition to make them a full meal.
If you are out camping for fun, be sure to pack enough meat and food to last the whole trip. If you are out hunting, be sure to store, clean properly, and prepare any meat you plan on eating.
Eating raw meat is never a good idea, but if push comes to shove and there are no other options, remember the warnings and guidelines stated above to be as safe as you can.
Citation: Can We Stomach a Raw Meat Mono Diet? The Guardian.