Is eating the heart of the animal you harvest insane? Toxic? Healthy?
Demodectic mange is a disease in deer. Brucellosis is a bacterial infection found in commonly harvested wildlife like bison, elk, caribou and swine. Tuberculosis can be carried by deer, elk and bison. And handling and consuming brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, eyes, tonsils, and spleen when processing deer and elk can increase your risk of becoming infected with CWD, especially in areas where CWD is known to be present.
Depending who you talk to, opinions vary. Experience, relevant insights on the Internet, and agency health advisories have given recommendations and guidelines of what food is safe to eat and how it should be prepared.
But what about cultural tradition?
I’m reminded of the scene in Red Dawn where Robert shoots a deer and drinks some of the deer’s blood as part of a ritual that Jed, his brother and their father all took part in. Jed also suggests that everyone will notice a change in Robert from then on. The caveat is that it’s a prank on Robert just to see if he would drink it.
I ran into this while hunting buffalo in the Badlands of North Dakota. My hunt was guided by a tribesman of the MHA Reservation who explained the cultural traditions of buffalo hunting. Eating the heart was said to be one of the cultural traditions. At my hunting guide’s first and second suggestion to eat the heart, I thought he was playing pranks. When I started field dressing the buffalo and it was suggested again, I realized he was serious.
Native American ancestors ate the heart of the buffalo for many reasons. The spirit, or character, of the buffalo was thought to reside in the heart of the creature, and by eating it, one could gain a measure of the creature’s good qualities—bravery, endurance, strength—and carry these qualities within ourselves going forward to cope with our own life’s challenges. Natives also believed the buffalo heart to be very nutritious.
So next time you’re feeling down, eat some raw buffalo heart!
Tip: Don’t chew it!
Have you ever eaten the heart?
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