‘No Vegetarian Tendencies’: West Virginia Town Hosts Roadkill Cooking Festival
As alternative fuel sources and environmental regulations rise, the formerly coal-mining areas of West Virginia have been emptying, with some areas living in poverty. One such area is the town of Marlinton, high up in the hills of Pocahontas County. With a population of just over 1,000, Marlinton is the largest town in the county.
However, on September 23rd, 12,000 people poured into the small town with one goal in mind: eating some sweet, gourmet roadkill.
Marlinton is the site of the annual Roadkill Cooking Festival, drawing in chefs and roadkill from as far away as California (that particular chef served iguana tacos).
Harvesting roadkill for food has a long history in West Virginia, particularly in remote regions, where wasting food is frowned upon. In fact, regulations related to deer hit by cars in particular have been changed so that the driver no longer needs to wait for the police to come by and tag the animal—they can simply call the Department of Natural Resources, tell them their vehicle information, address, and where they hit the deer, after which they can just pick it up and take it home. It should be noted that this law doesn’t apply to two other often-claimed animals, turkeys and black bears.
The festival is largely built around the Cook-off, where cooks are required to certify that at least 25% of their food is wild game (since the event is attended by thousands of people, it would be difficult to scrape together enough roadkill to feed all of them), and is of a species commonly found dead on the side of the road, such as “groundhog, opossum, deer, rabbit, bear, crow, squirrel, snake, turkey, etc.” according to the Cook-off rules. This year, some of the premier dishes included snapping turtle stew, grilled wild boar, quail meatballs, black bear chili, venison wantons, elk grits over noodles, and of course the out-of-town iguana tacos.
Judges tasted each dish, and prizes were awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, as well as an award for best Showmanship and the People’s Choice Award. However, all competing teams, provided that they registered before the deadline, received a $100 prize just for participating. All judges have “sworn under oath to have no vegetarian tendencies.”
This was the 24th annual festival, so if you feel like testing your stomach with an array of fresh-cooked roadkill (the meat which is roadkill and which is not are intentionally kept a secret), you will have to wait for next year.
Or, we suppose, if you live in West Virginia, you could have your own version at home the next time you hit something driving home (especially if it’s a deer). Elsewhere, double check the laws on harvesting roadkill—some states can get very touchy about that.