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Melissa Martin: Is Reindeer Meat On Your Menu?

By Melissa Martin

Move over turkey and ham, reindeer meat is vying for a platter at the holiday dinner table and beyond.

No, not Rudolph or the other eight elusive creatures (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen) that transport Santa’s sleigh around the world on Christmas. Kids, not to worry. Rudolph will not be glazed, baked, or carved. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is safe.

In fact, the Alaska Department of Game and Fish website reports that “Santa’s reindeer (R.t. saintnicolas magicalus) look very similar to common reindeer or caribou, but have many characteristics that distinguish them from the seven other common subspecies.” And the legendary reindeer are not to be hunted or eaten. “Little is known about reproduction but it does appear that the life expectancy of Santa’s reindeer is infinite. No deaths or fatalities have been reported, and none are expected in the foreseeable future, though stories are told of numerous “close calls” due to slippery rooftops and heavy jet traffic around major airports.” Visit www.adfg.alaska.com to read more.

Reindeer meat is popular in the Scandinavian countries. In Alaska and Finland, reindeer sausage is sold in grocery stores. Do they order reindeer sausage on pizza?

Reindeer and caribou are the same animal and are a member of the deer family. In Europe, they are called reindeer. In North America, the animals are called caribou if they are wild and reindeer if they are domesticated. www.fda.gov.

Why chew on reindeer parts? Because the meat is lean, healthy and tasty. I have eaten wild deer meat (venison), but not reindeer. So I am not speaking from a masticating experience.

Reindeer meat is a treat to some and a staple to others. This red meat contains little fat and large doses of vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, according to research by scientists at Norway’s University of Tromsø. Who knew?

But cows may have a beef to pick with reindeer steaks during the remaining eleven months of the year. Americans love their beefy burgers during 4th of July celebrations, summer picnics, and grilled on an open fire. And buffalo may try to box reindeer jerky. Pork may come out punching if reindeer try to get into the hot dog business. But I say there’s room at the table for all.

Visitors to Alaska who sample reindeer meat buy it when they return to their homeland. So exporters of reindeer meat see an annual increase for the product. And reindeer sausage is a longtime Alaskan staple.

So next year instead of a frozen turkey or a smoked ham, your employer may give you a hunk of reindeer roast. Accept with gratitude and chow down.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Southern Ohio. Contact her at melissamcolumnist@gmail.com.

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