Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

Everyone should eat venison

Well, lucky little tiny tots at Top Days nurseries in Hampshire and Dorset. It’s Bambi on the menu for them now that the organisation running the schools has teamed up with the Eat Wild company, which promotes wild meats, to introduce venison into school lunches. They’re rolling out five dishes featuring venison, including deer mince in spaghetti bolognese and burgers. Some 3,000 children will benefit, and there will be more when the scheme is introduced in other schools.

It is the obvious and sane solution to the problem of an ever-increasing deer population, short of introducing wolves to cull the creatures, which nowadays have no natural predators. The children get to eat venison, which is low in fat and rich in nutrients like iron and zinc. The deer have a happy life until they’re shot – and if you had a choice between being a wild deer or a battery chicken, which would you prefer? The meat comes from two estates in the South Downs which are overrun with deer, so the environmental benefits of culling them are huge, specifically for trees, and for biodiversity generally.

There are, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, two million deer in Britain, a million more than there should be if we’re to continue to plant trees with a chance of survival at the rate the government promised. So eating deer is a win-win for children, deer (arguably) and the environment (definitely). And though no one has had the bad taste to mention it, for the sportsmen who get to stalk the noble beasts.

If venison is good enough for nurseries, what about prisons? I would argue that HM’s prisoners deserve some decent, nutritious food. My cookbooks are stuffed with inviting venison recipes: the Pipers Farm book has one for venison stew with bacon and chestnut dumplings – yum; Tom Kitchin’s Meat & Game has the excellent-sounding venison escalopes with parma ham, parsley and shallot butter; while Norman Tebbit’s The Game Cook has a lovely venison casserole with beer.

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