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A few months ago I talked about meat. I decided I’d eat less, better meat. From animals that had led a decent and natural life and that had been farmed in a non-intensive and sustainable way.

I also made the decision that, because of its huge environmental impact, I’d restrict beef, the biggest meaty environmental offender, to a once-a-month treat.

Well, I reckon I’ve just about managed it. But there’s nothing like a bit of red meat every now and again. So I’m also pleased to say that I’ve found an excellent beef-alternative that I’ve started to buy more of.

Venison.

So, a quick reminder why we should eat less meat, beef in particular.

If you live in the UK and eat meat regularly, the chances are that this makes up at least 10% of your carbon footprint. Once you add in methane (or cow fart), a greenhouse gas 25-times more potent than CO2, farming cattle accounts for nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than transport does.

Meat is really inefficient to produce. You feed the animal a lot more calories than you get out. Beef is the most inefficient by far, needing 10 kilos of feed to produce 1 kilo of beef.

Intensively farmed cows don’t often get the opportunity to eat grass as a cow should and instead are fed maize, corn and other grains. Three quarters of agricultural land in the EU is now used to grow animal feed. And the huge demand for it means that we now import feed from far-flung places such as Brazil where the pressure for land leads to deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon.

OK, so we know all this.

What about the venison?

Well, deer are wild. Even when they’re farmed, they resist domestication. This means they’re always free-range and are not intensively produced.

Although most of the venison you find in Supermarkets will be farmed, a lot of wild venison is also sold in the UK.

In Scotland and the south of England the deer population has been booming over recent years and deer have been becoming a bit of a pest. Because they cause a lot of damage to woodlands and trees, deer are often culled. This meat is usually sold, perhaps at your local butchers. So if you eat wild venison, not only has your meat had as natural a life as it possibly could, but you’re also helping to stop a small bit of deer-related deforestation and making sure that good meat doesn’t go to waste.

Even farmed deer mainly eat grass and not grain. They can be farmed on marginal land like sheep. Land that’s only good for growing grass, such as the Scottish highlands.

Cleverly, deer naturally reduce their appetite in winter, when grass is more scare and go into semi hibernation. Farmed deer are often given hay and reject root vegetables in winter. These can easily be produced locally and makes good use of second-rate veg that us humans might turn our noses up at.

Unlike cows, deer haven’t been selectively bred over centuries and so they don’t suffer from many of the diseases that traditional farm animals do. This means that they don’t need to be given antibiotics, hormones and other drugs that are commonly given to intensively farmed, non-organic cows, which also can end up in your beef.

The most humane way to kill a deer is to shoot it in its natural habitat, which is still legal for game. This means that, unlike a cow, it is spared a distressing final journey to the abattoir (which, unless the cow walks there, also creates carbon emissions). The deer is instantly killed and suffers no distress. Other deer are apparently unconcerned by one of their number suddenly dropping dead as this doesn’t happen in the wild.

And there are some very good health reasons to eat venison.

Venison is very low in fat and cholesterol and is much better for you than beef. It’s often recommended as part of a low-fat diet. It also contains more iron than any other red meat.

It’s cheaper than similar quality cuts of beef. A couple of good steaks will be around £6 and steak patties are only a couple of quid for two.

You can use it to make burgers, sausages, Bolognese, stews, casseroles or simply cook it as a steak. Pretty much anything you do with beef you can do with venison. You may need to add some fatty bacon or pork belly fat to it though as it is so lean.

Half a million years ago, when we were hunters, half our diet was venison (the word venison originally meant meat that was hunted). In medieval times, it was highly regarded meat and poaching venison from the king’s forest could cost you your hand.

Although it is now wildly farmed – there 300 deer parks producing 5 thousand deer every year in the UK – and therefore much wildly available, we still tend to treat it as exotic and something that you might only eat as an occasional indulgence. My mother delights in cooking a venison stew or “Rudolf Casserole” every Christmas Eve and includes a single whole cherry tomato – his nose. We consider it a festive (if slightly disturbing) treat.

But given that it’s better for you, cheaper and less damaging for the planet than similar meat, I think we should eat more. So next time you’re buying some beef for your tea, stop. Try buying venison instead.

Just don’t call it Rudolf.

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