I almost passed out the first time I went grocery shopping in California. When we lived in the Midwest, with an Aldi nearby, we were definitely spoiled. I upped our grocery budget from $200 to $300 to accommodate the difference in price.
What shocked me the most was the price of meat. We have never bought a lot of meat, but in the past several years we have bought even less.
Eating less meat is a great way to save money, but it’s not a great solution for everyone. Cutting down on meat makes carnivores pretty grumpy.
When I was growing up, if it didn’t have meat in it, it wasn’t a meal. As kids we were content with mac and cheese from the blue box, but we only got that when Daddy was out of town. When he was home, dinner had to include meat, usually ground beef. My mom invented all sorts of pasta dishes and casseroles that incorporated hamburger.
Fortunately I have some great ways that you can avoid the painful prices of your grocery store’s meat department altogether. I’m excited to help you think outside the styrofoam tray of the grocery store.
Let boys be boys
For our son’s sixth birthday we got him this slingshot. We had very specific rules with the slingshot to keep people safe. We didn’t think there was any chance that he would actually shoot and kill an animal.
Well, our six-year-old surprised us. Before long he proudly carried a dead squirrel into the kitchen and declared he was going to cook it for dinnerl.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised because squirrels are everywhere here. Everywhere. Given the number I see on the road (both dead and alive) I can only imagine how many there are just out of sight.
While our daughter refused to eat the squirrel stew (really just vegetable stew with a squirrely gravy) that my husband made, everyone else really enjoyed it.
In California, only one of five squirrel species can be killed on your own property without a license. Your state or city may differ. Check with your local Fish and Game Department (or your state’s equivalent) before taking any wild game.
Back in October of 2015, my husband had a little run in with a bear on his way home. In the dim dusk light, he saw it just a split second before it ran straight into the front passenger side headlight of his car. It flipped around, hitting both the front and rear passenger-side doors.
He watched the poor animal take his final breaths and wondered what to do. Because it’s illegal to bag an animal you hit with your car in California, he had to call the Sheriff’s department to take care of it. It was sad to see that beautiful animal die. It was also sad to think of the 100+ pounds of meat that ended up in a landfill.
You may live somewhere friendlier to harvesting roadkill. The laws differ by state. In Montana, you can take deer, elk, antelope, and moose involved in a traffic accident. Utah allows you to bag big game. In some states only the driver of the car is allowed to bag the animal. In others, anyone can pick it up. Check the laws in your state so you know what to do if the opportunity presents itself.
Using roadkill for meat isn’t a new idea. In parts of Alaska, Wisconsin, New York, Florida, West Virginia, Illinois and other states, large roadkill is donated to food banks.
You definitely don’t want to eat something that you just find on the side of the road. For your health’s sake make sure it’s fresh (you killed it or saw it killed) and that if any internal organs have ruptured, they haven’t leaked into and spoiled the meat. Note that heavily bruised areas make for bad steak and roast, but might be good enough to be ground. Be sure to cook any wild game thoroughly, as some animals will carry parasites.
Let it come to you
For years, the melons in the garden have attracted critters. And I’m not just talking about gophers. One year my father-in-law caught eight skunks, one each night for more than week, in a live trap set by the cantaloupe patch. Instead of just seeing a pest, we decided to try to make some use of the animals.
We knew the skunks had been well-fed, as they left a nice dent in the garden produce. You’re probably wondering about the scent gland. It’s not too hard to remove if you’re careful. Once prepared, it tastes just like chicken.
When you’re willing to find meat in these non-traditional ways, you can sometimes get it without even realizing it. On the way home from school one day, I nearly collided with a bird. I watched the rear view mirror and didn’t see it so I figured it must have made it safely away. I promptly forgot about it.
When we got home, the kids started playing outside as usual. As I was walking toward the house, my four-year-old nonchalantly asks me, “Mom, why is there a bird on the car?”
It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about, but sure enough, I had actually hit it and driven it several miles home with us. It’s beak was stuck in the grille, but the body was in good condition. We used the same marinade already prepared for our chicken that night and roasted it like a quail. There’s not a lot of meat on a single woodpecker, but it was delicious.
If you find yourself with unexpected meat on hand, The Original Roadkill Cookbook has some great ideas on how to prepare it.
I hope these strategies help you lower your food budget. Good quality protein is not cheap, but with creative harvesting, you’ll save loads of money on your grocery bill and still get good meat in your diet. You may never go back to styrofoam packaging again!
Happy April Fool’s Day!
I hope you know I am absolutely kidding.
My husband did in fact kill a bear, my father-in-law did catch eight skunks in the garden, my son did get a slingshot for his birthday, and that is really a bird from the front of my van. But we did not eat any of it. Seriously, I can’t even touch raw meat without being completely grossed out. I’m a wimp and wear plastic gloves.
If any of the meat-harvesting above is legal in your area and you’re careful about health and safety concerns, non-traditional meat can actually be a frugal option– just not for us.
Oh, and our son didn’t actually shoot a squirrel. Using his slingshot on animals is against the rules too.
As you might have guessed, those product links are affiliate links. That means that if you happen to click through and buy, say, that roadkill cookbook I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. You know you want it! 🙂