You’ll find North American game meats included in blog posts about the best exotic meats. And it’s true, elk and bison meat aren't readily available at every grocery store and are even considered rare in most parts of the United States. But are they truly exotic?
Rare vs. Exotic Meats
Merriam-Webster defines exotic as, “introduced from another country; not native to the place where found.” At Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Co., our herds are born and raised in North America where they originated and belong. So we’d argue that, no, elk and bison meat aren’t exotic to people in North America because they’re native species.
That said, though they might not fall into the exotic meat category with things like kangaroo and camel, they are certainly rare as far as your average American table goes. Annually, the per capita consumption of bison meat in the United States is approximately .07 pounds per person. In comparison, in 2011, Americans consumed 54.5 pounds of beef per person. As for elk, surveys suggest less than 20% of consumers have tried elk meat.
A Brief History of America’s Original Red Meats
Before European settlement on the continent, there were an estimated 30 million bison and 10 million elk in North America. Bison and elk were important food sources for Native Americans. The hearty species evolved to survive here and adapted to the grasslands they grazed on.
Unfortunately, by the late 1800s and early 1900s, the total buffalo population numbered in the hundreds, while the elk population dwindled to under 100,000. The animals were nearly wiped out due to habitat loss from westward expansion, disease from imported cattle, commercial hunting, and efforts to destabilize Native American tribes.
Thanks to significant conservation initiatives, some of the buffalo and elk populations have been restored. It’s estimated there are currently about 500,000 buffalo and 1 million elk in the United States.
Four Compelling Reasons to Choose Buffalo and Elk Meat
Though North American game meat isn’t technically exotic, it does break the typical chicken, pork and beef mould. If you’re looking for something new and exciting to add to your diet, there are benefits to giving elk and buffalo meat a try.
1. Helps with conservation efforts
In a release from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr. Kent Redford said one potential path to bison conservation is, “to grow sustainable markets for wild, free-ranging bison meat.” By creating demand for native game species, it supports their place on our land and will naturally further conservation efforts.
2. Better for farmers and the land
Animals like elk and bison graze differently than cattle. Traditional grazing patterns stimulate plant growth and the animals’ waste and hoofprints play a role in helping seedlings take hold and thrive. The wallows, or depressions, bison create by rolling on the ground, collect water and create microhabitats for other species of animals. (If you want to learn more, check out this Washington Post article: “Once nearly extinct, bison are now climate heroes”.)
A lot of the meat eaten today comes from huge factory farms and, in the case of the cow, from a non-native species. This has taken a huge toll on the environment, farmers and rural economies. The bison industry, on the other hand, is built on the hard work of small farmers and ranchers across the West. with a more equitable economic model.
When you eat bison, elk and even wild boar meat, you’re supporting food production that’s more sustainable for all involved.
3. Healthier for you
Buffalo and elk are vigorous, strong animals with surprisingly tender meat. They both have a rich, umami flavor but are much leaner than beef steak. The meats have better quality protein, more minerals and Omega-3s and significantly less fat and calories than beef. Options like bison steaks and elk burgers are great alternatives for people who love red meat but are trying to eat a heart-healthy diet.
Elk and bison meats are meatier and more complex. Our game meat comes from responsibly raised animals that are treated with the respect they deserve. This, combined with our hand-cut butchering, leads to a premium quality product with a mild, clean taste and outstanding tenderness and texture.
Ready to eat more game meat?
Whether you’re looking for healthier red meat or you simply want to shake up your diet, we have a wide selection of elk and bison products to choose from. Not sure where to start? We’d recommend our Buffalo & Elk Big Game Butcher’s Box. It has some of our most popular cuts all in one place. Be sure to browse our recipes too.