Debates over the ethics of eating meat often hinge on one point: Could you kill it yourself? And if the answer is no, you shouldn’t be eating it. That seemingly straightforward axiom is easily made more complicated, of course. For example, if you’re vehemently opposed to killing living things but you ingest lots of palm oil, shouldn’t all those dead orangutans in Borneo weigh on your conscience a little bit?
California may be about to follow Oregon’s lead and muddy the waters further. Bob Archuleta, a Democratic state senator from the Los Angeles area, has introduced legislation that would amend the Fish and Game code to let people consume the meat of roadkill deer. It’s called Senate Bill 395, which happens to share the same number as the beautiful highway that runs along the wildlife-filled Eastern side of the Sierra. The legislative process is often referred to as sausage-making, and you don’t really want to watch sausage get made, and this may be a serious one-hand-washes-the-other situation.
The logic of such a bill is clear: That dead deer is already dead, so if you managed to kill it without taking out its legs so that the body hits the hood and the antlers shatter your windshield, what’s really stopping you from cooking it and eating it? Further, this proposal is not a free-for-all. As of Jan. 1, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife requires an after-the-incident permit in order to eat at this particular “drive-through,” and even then, it comes with lots of restrictions. You can only take deer and elk, the deer can’t be a white-tailed deer (except in one county) because they’re a protected species, it can’t be on a Native reservation, the collision can’t have been on purpose, you have to “humanely dispatch” the animal if it’s still alive, you have to remove all the guts from the asphalt, and you can’t keep the antlers.
You have to surrender the entire head within five days, in fact. And in order to do so, you must make an appointment. No walk-in severed elk heads, Oregonians!
So in all fairness, the policy sounds reasonably well thought-out, even if it is a sly way of lightening the load of highway maintenance workers. And now that prominent conservatives are basically telling everyone to panic and buy guns because the Second Civil War is already here, it’s maybe a good way to encourage hunting without further arming the populace. But California’s bill would actually go a little further than Oregon’s, allowing motorists who merely happen upon a deer to nab it — another petty violation of the sacred principle of You Kill It, You Grill It.
At the same time, just as America is beginning to move away from referring to car crashes as “accidents,” this feels like a big steep backward. It seems as if it will encourage a lot of reckless driving, especially on country roads where medical assistance (for humans) is far away — and there’s another bill working its way through state government that might abolish speed limits. This might mean goodbye to the erstwhile family of Bernal Heights coyotes, too. Throw in the possibility of dubious food-handling practices — that Double Yellow Stripe Surprise might have been in the Danger Zone — and it could become a public-health issue, as well.
The prospect of Joe Pesci killing a deer once set Marisa Tomei into a paroxysm of stupefied rage. But that was with bullets, not using the sweet vintage convertible they drove to Alabama in. So maybe let’s think twice before we go full Florida Man.