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June 30, 2007 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Why is there no such thing in the US as a successful national fast food franchise for venison?

...or for that matter, other kinds of meat besides the obvious standbys of beef, chicken, fish, and the like? There's even a "Souper Salad" for All You Can Eat vegetarians, but what about mutton, or alligator, or ostrich? Mostly vension though. I'm most interested in the moment why there's not a successful national venison franchise.
posted by ZachsMind to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's expensive, mostly due to the fact that it can't be/isn't mass-produced (in a disgusting manner like KFC chicken or McD's nuggets, I'd like to add).

Also it's kind of a gourmet/delicacy item that doesn't appeal to the general palate, for reasons either biological or cultural.
posted by rhoticity at 6:07 PM on June 30, 2007

It seems like a simple case of availability and price.

I don't think you could factory farm deer very easily, for example, which is what you would need for a fast food venison restaurant.

Also, is there really demand? While venison is delicious (and reasonably healthy), a lot of people don't like the idea of eating cute animals. It seems like venison is mostly a game meat that people eat when they (or someone they know) hunts.

If you think there is a market, why not start one?
posted by JMOZ at 6:09 PM on June 30, 2007

Because we haven't totally domesticated deer, though Wikipedia claims that it was done in New Zealand in the 1970s.

We can raise them in captivity, but not in the genetically-altered, five-thousand-animal farms that we do with, say, cattle or chickens, and even if we did raise them on a farm, I doubt the economies of scale would work out. A chicken's life from birth to slaughter is probably dictated to the day on a farm that produces for McDonald's, everything from when to administer drugs to when to clean the cages, but we haven't, as far as I know, created the antibiotics and medicines needed to keep large numbers of deer in small pens without all of them dying of disease.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has more here.
posted by mdonley at 6:18 PM on June 30, 2007

Probably FDA concerns, too... you'd have to get it inspected to sell it (I think?), and can you really prove that your deer has only been eating certified deer food and has no mad deer disease?
posted by anaelith at 6:20 PM on June 30, 2007

More on NZ deer farming here.
posted by mdonley at 6:22 PM on June 30, 2007

Frankly, this would be a great idea. Without predators, Deer are the new Rat. If we could figure out a way to sensibly reduce their populations, I'd be all for it. But I doubt turning them into tasty samiches would actually reduce their population. The biggest issue we have with deer here in Pennsylvania isn't necessarily overpopulation, but where they are concentrated. Not the woods but in heavily populated areas. Why? They aren't balanced by a check there, or the check is usually a Buick.

If we were to turn them into samiches, you'd need a predictable source. Hunting wouldn't provide that, and you wouldn't want hunters in the 'burbs, which is where you'd find the bulk. And raising them as livestock wouldn't work as they take several years (not months like beef) to reach a harvestable size and tend not to do well in industrial farming. Not that cattle do, but they are significantly more efficient at producing protein in the monstrosity we call farming today. Deer love corn, but couldn't eat it exclusively like we force cattle to do.

Most fast food burgers today are made from milk cows, and that would be another inefficiency. We get two products from that animal we wouldn't get from deer and that would make it hard to justify economically.

Personally, love venison. Great as a burger with a strong cheese, sharp cheddar or blue. But with American, pickles, special sauce, lettuce, a coke and fries. Still not interested.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:30 PM on June 30, 2007

Why would you want mutton-burgers when you can have beef?

And why would you raise alligators or ostriches when you could raise cows?

What kind of fences do you need to operate a deer ranch? Is barbed wire enough to contain them, or do they jump over that? Can you get consistent meat quality, or does it taste gamy sometimes?

I think national fast food chains sell food that they can get easily from factory farms (sorry, no alligator, ostrich, or venison) and that tastes good (sorry, no mutton). That leads them to choose these 3 categories:

Red Meat: Beef
White Meat: Chicken (maybe pork?)
Something Catholics can eat on Friday: Fish.

So, while you can go to some national chains (but more upscale than McDonald's) and order an ostrich burger, you just won't get ostrich or venison to make a dent in the beef market.

Note to shepherds: sorry for the mutton-hate. Lamb is good, but I've talked to too many people who remember switching to mutton because of meat rationing. They all were very glad when beef was back again
posted by rossmik at 6:36 PM on June 30, 2007

Ah, the vegetarian thread got you thinking huh?

My opinion: there would be no market for it, even if it could be done efficiently. The overwhelming majority of people in the US are raised on beef as their red meat. Venison is not palatable to the vast majority of those people.
posted by The Deej at 6:37 PM on June 30, 2007

There's also laws against selling deer meat, or something like that for some reason
posted by uncballzer at 6:43 PM on June 30, 2007

I bet you there's some cultural history here. I don't know about land animals. I did read that in the mid or late 1800s there was this shift when it very quickly became "low class" to eat certain kinds of birds (and not others). I wonder if the same thing happened with deer.
posted by salvia at 6:47 PM on June 30, 2007

Didn't there used to be a semi-national rabbit fast-food chain? I swear I remember being stunned by seeing it when we would drive from MN to Florida in the late 1970s-early 1980s. It had some cutesy name and logo.
posted by GaelFC at 6:51 PM on June 30, 2007

Uncballzer has it. There are laws in some states against selling venison - it's ok to hunt deer and process the meat for personal consumption, but you can't sell it.
posted by aberrant at 7:09 PM on June 30, 2007

Are you by any chance thinking of Dell Stator's Rabbit Hut, which was a "commercial" on Saturday Night Live years ago? For some reason I still remember the jingle:

"Hop on down to the Rabbit Hut, we'll turn you into a rabbit nut, at Dell Stator's, Dell Stator's, Dell Stator's Rabbit Hut."
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:15 PM on June 30, 2007

Deer and elk can fall victim to chronic wasting disease. It's not really known how/if this affects humans.

The industrial food chain is not set up for deer. Because of this, it would be pretty expensive to process on a large scale.

Ted's Montana Grill has done pretty well selling bison meat, though.
posted by Ostara at 7:21 PM on June 30, 2007

Response by poster: Yes the veggie thread got me thinking.

So far venison is:

* too costly from a perspective of supply versus demand.
* considered a higher (gourmet) class of meat by some.
* considered a lower (gamier) class of meat by others.
* mass production would be cost-ineffective, and you couldn't get enough meet by hunting wilds.
* Unlike NZ, we have not properly or fully domesticated the deer yet in the US, as we have cows and chickens.
* culturally, deer are considered 'prettier' than cows and chickens, and therefore less palatable to some.
* not suitable for the fast food 'burgers & fries' menu, as it needs a sharp cheddar or blue cheese not american cheese (very astute obs there). Probably something other than fries too. Onion rings wouldn't work either.
* unable to compete with the US beef market industry which has been around longer than the Brooklyn Bridge. There is no comparable US venison market industry. Beef's simply cornered the market.
* restricted by laws in the US which have prevented a venison market from developing or fluorishing, further assisting the beef market's dominance.

Please do keep the answers coming. This is rather fascinating!
posted by ZachsMind at 7:22 PM on June 30, 2007

There is fast food ostrich burger chains, just not in the Western Hemisphere. Take a look at this chain in Malaysia. And it looks like one is starting up in Bahrain.
posted by junesix at 7:25 PM on June 30, 2007

I've got a venison roast thawing right now, but I'll give you my personal demographic response: I wouldn't eat fast-food venison because I don't eat farmed meat. And with the little knowledge I have of meat farming practices and animal domestication, mass-farmed deer would be completely off-putting to me. Antlerless, hoofless, caged deer? Probably confined like veal, rendered unable to thrash themselves... Who can eat thinking of that?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:33 PM on June 30, 2007

For some of us, an aversion to venison since childhood can be summed up in 2 words: Bambi's mom.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:36 PM on June 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not being sarcastic. I was totally horrified by Bambi's mom getting shot as a child. I refused to even try one bite of venison until I was about 24.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:40 PM on June 30, 2007

Response by poster: "Antlerless, hoofless, caged deer? Probably confined like veal, rendered unable to thrash themselves... Who can eat thinking of that?"

Well Ambrosia, they're doing that now and far worse to cows. I've seen footage recently taken at dairy farms. Because cows are caged so as to make it impossible to exercise, their hind legs are oftentimes growing deformed and crippled. Looks painful when they do have to move the poor thing. I guess there's no market for muscular backlegs in beef? I'll still eat an occasional burger tho. Cute as a button or not, Elsie is just as tasty to me as Bambi.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:54 PM on June 30, 2007

There is fast food ostrich burger chains, just not in the Western Hemisphere.

You can get ostrich burgers @ Fuddruckers.

For some of us, an aversion to venison since childhood can be summed up in 2 words: Bambi's mom.

I completely agree. I was going to answer "Because no one wants to eat Bambi!" but I thought that might be a little snarky. But it's true. It's the same reason I won't eat rabbit (Thumper! Peter Rabbit!).
posted by tastybrains at 8:02 PM on June 30, 2007

I seem to recall that prion disease is rampant in North American deer... that and the "damage control" nature of FDA/USDA oversight would keep me away from such food.
posted by hodyoaten at 8:10 PM on June 30, 2007

This is a question that is, you may or may not expect, answered in a way by Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. He discusses how civilization rose where it did partly because of a confluence of efficient grain crops and domesticated animals, of which cattle and sheep are the mainstays. These were easily spread across Eurasia due to similar temperate climates.

To cheat and quote Wikipedia,

Also important to the transition from hunter-gatherer to city-dwelling agrarian societies was the presence of large domesticable animals, raised for meat, work, and long-distance communication. Diamond identifies a mere 14 domesticated large mammal species worldwide. The five most useful (cow, horse, sheep, goat, and pig) are all descendants of species endemic to Eurasia. Of the remaining nine, only two (the llama and alpaca both of South America) are indigenous to a land outside the temperate region of Eurasia.

Due to the Anna Karenina principle, surprisingly few animals are suitable for domestication. Diamond identifies six criteria including the animal being sufficiently docile, gregarious, willing to breed in captivity and having a social dominance hierarchy. Therefore, none of the many African mammals such as the zebra, antelope, cape buffalo and African elephant were ever domesticated (although some can be tamed, they are not easily bred in captivity). The Holocene extinction event eliminated many of the megafauna that, had they survived, might have become candidate species, and Diamond argues that the pattern of extinction is more severe on continents where animals that had no prior experience of humans were exposed to humans who already possessed advanced hunting techniques (e.g. the Americas and Australia).

Smaller domesticable animals such as dogs, cats, chickens, and guinea pigs may be valuable in various ways to an agricultural society, but will not be adequate in themselves to sustain large-scale agrarian society. An important example is the use of larger animals such as cows and horses in plowing land, allowing for much greater crop productivity and the ability to farm a much wider variety of land and soil types than would be possible solely by human muscle power. Large domestic animals also have an important role in the transportation of goods and people over long distances, giving the societies that possess them considerable military and economic advantages.

Basically, Diamond argues that there are no other animals that could easily be domesticated for an agricultural society. We eat the things we eat not because we just like beef or ham better, but because we couldn't make the antelope or deer amenable to fencing and fattening. The cattle we eat today are quite different from the cattle we first chased into crude enclosures a number of thousands of years ago. We selectively bred them to provide juicy meat we like to eat, and learned what crops to grow to feed them properly, as well as a number of husbandry techniques from the technology of the barn (yes, it's reasonably sophisticated; read any 19th century farming book) to crude genetics.

If we could have done the same with deer, we most likely would have a long time ago. If we start now, in a couple of centuries we might have an animal that grows up fat on a farm and is suitable for industrialized restauranting.
posted by dhartung at 8:12 PM on June 30, 2007

ZachsMind, to clarify my comment, I think it's the domestication issue. Especially in the case of deer, which are emblems of natural wildness and grace, it's unappetizing to think of them tamed. Makes us feel more like consumers than Americans *cue the cry of a bald eagle*. That domesticated/wild binary is too much a part of our folklore, and our meat animals too far removed from their wild counterparts to be recognized by our culture as anything but cute proto-food. Interestingly, Venison and Salmon in my diet have one thing in common: sourceability. Either they're farmed (and ecologically as well as gustatorily undesirable food choices, farmed salmon guh do not want) or they're wild caught, from a determinable hunter or fishery. Since I eat a lot of seafood, anything sustainable and non-farmed, the occasional piece of blood red mammalian venison is as rare a treat as it should be, in the tradition of omnivorism.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:00 PM on June 30, 2007

A local (NE US) restaurant serves venison burgers as a limited item, and when we asked them why it was limited, the chef said that he doesn't find that the meat takes well to freezing and thawing. So they get it fresh, cook and sell it till it's gone, and then have none until the next delivery.
posted by xo at 9:32 PM on June 30, 2007

xo: no kidding? I've had frozen venison and it was just fine.... Perhaps it depends on the cut, etc.
posted by JMOZ at 11:08 PM on June 30, 2007

JMOZ: just today (since I am thawing a roast, and I am used only to seafood) I looked up "thaw venison" to make sure I was doing it right, and learned that once made into burger, it degrades badkly frozen, and that roasts or other cuts are longer-lived in the freezer, but even so have a shorter period of edibility than beef. What happens after that? Maybe I can tell you tomorrow night, after eating 11 month old venison... :/ freegan meat, what can I say? Even deer eat deer sometimes.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:21 AM on July 1, 2007

I've had farmed venison that is better than wild, and farmed venison that is worse. I stopped eating wild venison because of the rampant prion disease, and I don't eat farmed venison much because the good stuff is too expensive.

As for domestication, I thought the Lapp's pretty much fully domesticated reindeer? I know reindeer/caribou are different than deer, but I thought the meat was similar?

Also, diss mutton all you want, but a nice young lamb is very tasty, and often available locally raised in halfway sanitary conditions instead of from some disgusting factory farm.

A better bet for fast food meat from a purely economic/flavor aesthetic standpoint would be either nutria, horse, or dog. However, people are disgusted by the idea of all three for various reasons.

OT, I agree that farmed Salmon is almost inedible especially compared to wild.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:06 AM on July 1, 2007

To explain a bit more about a point that a few people have touched on above: it is illegal in the US to buy or sell venison from a deer hunted in the wild. Any venison you buy in a store or restaurant will have been farm-raised. BUT, to clarify the issue, this is not unique to venison: it is true of all wild fish and animals. This prohibition on commercial trade in wildlife is one of the core principles of the "North American Model of Wildlife Conservation." About a century ago, market hunting was driving many of our fish and wildlife to extinction. Outlawing trade in wildlife - and redefining hunting and fishing as subsistence/recreational activities rather than commercial pursuits - was one of the major milestones of the early conservation movement. Any meat that you buy has been raised on a farm, whether it is a domesticated animal (cow, lamb) or a wild animal (deer, ostrich, alligator).

Given the prohibition on selling wild venison, there are also, as explained by earlier posters, a lot of reasons why we still do not have much in the way of venison farming: domestication, tastes, culture. But, even with farm-raised venison, there are implications for wildlife conservation. Conceptually, game farms feed commercial demand for wild animal meat, which could erode the overall prohibition on market hunting. Also, as we've seen with Chronic Wasting Disease, game farms can be vectors in the spread of diseases to and among wild some folks in the wildlife conservation community are still wary of game farming.

Bottom line: the best way to get venison is to hunt or to have friends who hunt! If you want to buy food at fast food restaurants, stick with cow and other domestic livestock.
posted by wick47 at 7:34 AM on July 1, 2007

wick47: you make it sound as though commercial fisheries don't exist, but most seafood is obtained this way. Selling of sport caught fish may be illegal, but from scallops to halibut, wild caught seafood is still a market. Here's a resource for anyone interested in sustainable fishing. (I don't follow them to the letter, since their goal is exclusively healthy oceans and I also object to animal farming.)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:10 AM on July 1, 2007

I stopped eating wild venison because of the rampant prion disease

Have there really been that many CDW outbreaks? I'm remembering one in Wisconsin that was big news a couple of years ago.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:58 PM on July 1, 2007

Not just Wisconsin: Chronic Wasting Disease map

Due to the nature of the disease, it's less of an "outbreak" situation than a "constant presence" one. Wisconsin has been unsuccessful in various strategies to date in eliminating CWD from its deer population.
posted by dhartung at 5:36 PM on July 1, 2007

If you're interested in the deer management controversy, at least in PA, you might want to check out Deer Wars. (Disclosure: I work for that publisher and did a little work on that book.) Chapter 11 is on CDW. We haven't had a case in PA, but they have in Virginia below us and New York state above. Been a bit of it in elk out west. It seems to naturally exist in the wild at very low levels. As they don't normally eat each other it doesn't seem that it's how it's spread. Even if you were to kill a deer with CDW, if it's butchered correctly your risk of contracting it would be low. The problems we've had with it in cattle occurred because we fed cows back to cows, particularly nerve tissue. Prions found a short cut and spread quickly. But if someone were to offer you venison today, your risk of getting it is probably nonexistent. I don't believe there's a documented case of it at all.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:07 PM on July 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whew, mine's Alaskan.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:04 PM on July 1, 2007

In my experience, venison can be kind of lean and the burger sort of falls apart. I cut my moose burger with either pork or make it with some binder like egg and crumbs. Maybe this would be too hard to go through in a mass scale. Although, that said, Trident does something similar with their salmon burgers.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:01 AM on July 2, 2007

what about mutton, or alligator, or ostrich?

There are plenty of regional chains that offer other meats. In the SouthEast one can easily find "alligator poppers" or the like. In Western Kentucky burgout, a mutton stew, is found. Ostrich has been tried nationally as has buffalo and frog legs.

A better bet for fast food meat from a purely economic/flavor aesthetic standpoint would be either nutria, horse, or dog. However, people are disgusted by the idea of all three for various reasons.

Who are these people that are disgusted by nutria? Just the ones that have never tried it I say (or the ones that live far from the SE)!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:17 AM on July 2, 2007

There's an excellent hot dog stand in Chicago called Hot Doug's that regularly serves sausage made of venison, elk, rattlesnake, alligator, etc... Looks like their current specials include wild boar and veal. The place is so popular that there's almost always a line out the door, so it definitely can't be said that people don't have a taste for it.
posted by atomly at 9:57 AM on July 2, 2007

Pollomacho, I've heard it tasted good, but I think people are squeamish about eating rodent. I left of guinea pig from my list, even though it is served in South America. I remember a friend discussing being served guinea pig in S.A., and the look of horror on the face of a fellow diner who had one as a pet.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:04 PM on July 2, 2007

My understanding is that it and other types of game are common and plentiful, but rules about slaughter and sale (as noted above, it's illegal to sell game) make wide-spread sale of wild venison prohibitive. There is also the concern about chronic wasting disease. It's too bad, since in many places deer are a pest.

I bet the venison at Hot Dougs and other luxury restaurants comes from farms.

Personally, I wish it were easier to find since it is a nice lean meat...but the lean qualities also make it difficult to cook.
posted by melissam at 12:32 PM on July 3, 2007

When I moved to Montana from Detroit, I was practically attacked with venison! Everywhere I went (private homes).. venison! Elk steaks, ground venison in tacos and burritos, antelope in spaghetti sauce. I. HATED. IT. It gagged me. I didn't want to be rude and picky, but I finally had to just start skipping the venison and having salad and side dishes, diplomatically explaining that I venison didn't agree with me. And every time I heard the same thing: "You'll never know it's venison, the way I prepare it!"

Sorry. Wrong. It may taste less gamey to those who like venison, but it's gag-a-riffic to those of us who don't like it. They may as well have been saying "You'll love this snot-an-crap sandwich the way *I* cook it."

But that's just me. My friends and relatives who were raised here prefer venison to beef. They were raised with it, and to them, beef tastes heavy and fatty and too rich. I know some people here who react to beef the way I react to venison.

I suspect a nationwide McVenison's would be met with the same enthusiasm. Yes, I know I already said that above, but I'm bored and wanted to tell a story.
posted by The Deej at 5:43 PM on July 3, 2007

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