Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is Eating Roadkill a Sin?

The Montana state legislature has passed a bill allowing its citizens to scavenge meat from roadkill, although it won't become law unless it gains approval from the governor. While a similar bill permitting salvage of a wide range of game animals failed, the present bill allows people to salvage meat from elk, deer, antelope, and moose that have been hit and killed by vehicles. 
“It really is a sin to waste a good meat,” said state Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman.
Mr. Jent, you couldn't be more wrong. Few will stop to think whether the bible has something to say about roadkill!

Growing State Support of the Roadside Lunch

Montana bill HB 247 doesn't set specific guidelines for the legal parameters of roadkill salvage except for which animals are allowed. Rather, it gives the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission of Montana the authority to make and distribute permits for salvaging the carcasses, so it would be up to them to answer questions such as, "how long can it sit on the side of the road and still be legal to eat?" GROSS.

As it turns out, 14 other states already have laws allowing for the salvage of roadkill in one way or another - some for food, some for their pelts/skins, and some for both. For example, it's legal in Illinois for anyone with a hunting/trapping license to scavenge roadkill for food as long as the animal in question is in season. In Alaska, a state government agency collects meat from roadside moose carcasses and donates it to charities that feed the needy - I guess if you're that desperate you don't really care where it comes from!

The arguments in favor of these programs are all about pragmatism: if the food is safe to eat, why not let it be used rather than wasted? 

God's Food Laws

God has 3 main laws governing what we eat on a daily basis, with a few extra restrictions on a few days a year. 
  1. God distinguishes between which animals we may eat (clean) and which ones we may not eat (unclean) in Leviticus 11. 
  2. We are not to eat blood (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:14, Acts 15:20). This includes both draining the blood and using it in cooking as well as eating meat that is not properly drained of blood. 
  3. Even of those animals which are clean to eat, they cannot be eaten if they die in the wild. In fact, these dead animals shouldn't even be touched, as the following scriptures show:
Leviticus 17:15-16
And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts... he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt. 
Leviticus 11:39-40
And if any animal which you may eat dies, he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until evening. He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. He also who carries its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.

My Apologies, Mr. Jent

What implications do God's laws have for roadkill? While State Senator Jent quipped that it's "a sin to waste good meat" that can be taken from roadkill, God's law makes it clear that roadkill is not good meat! In fact, we'll see that it would be a sin to eat it.

In Montana and Alaska, since all of the animals in question are considered biblically clean (they have both a split hoof and chew the cud). But in Illinois you can lawfully scavenge raccoon, opossum, and other animals with paws, which is contrary to the scripture since land animals must have split hooves to be considered clean, and animals with paws are specifically prohibited in Leviticus 11:27. So what about clean animals hit by cars?

I submit that animals killed by cars fall into the same category as those that "died naturally" or were "torn by wild beasts" in Leviticus 17:15 and 11:39. The state laws that I have seen do not specify that you have to be the one who hit the animal or to have been there when it happened - it seems that you can take whatever you find, provided you have a license. I'm not aware of any laws in the bible dealing with what to do if you find an animal in the wild that another person has killed and left there, since that would certainly add to the discussion; however, this is not the end of what the bible has to say!

While many people may simply see my concerns about clean and unclean as a bunch of Old Testament nonsense, the New Testament is very clear that Christians cannot simply eat whatever they want! I do believe that all of God's food laws are valid for Christians, but the prohibition against eating blood in the New Testament is thoroughly undeniable. Acts 15:20 warns the Gentiles coming into the Church not to eat blood and not to eat animals that are strangled rather than slaughtered by conventional methods - presumably because the blood was not properly drained. A similar prohibition applies here, since an animal that dies from car impact would be subject to all kinds of internal bleeding, possibly making it difficult to remove the blood when trying to prepare the meat.

Many Christians are not aware that God very specifically prohibits eating blood, and far fewer are aware that God outlaws many animals entirely! If we really want to please God, we have to know what the bible says and do it.
Romans 2:13Not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.


  1. I'm not sure I'd recommend eating roadkill, especially if you don't know how long it has been dead, but just because the Bible says it's wrong, does that mean it should be illegal?

    I'm not sure I'd be concerned with this law very much. Who knows, it might eliminate the need for city roadkill cleaners! :)

  2. The problem here is not that I think it should be either legal nor illegal - in fact I think I would prefer that there be no law regarding roadkill one way or the other from the government. What I was really getting at is the lack of biblical understanding in our culture because I don't know of anyone who has approached the topic of roadkill from a biblical perspective before. After all, how can people avoid sin if they don't know what sin is?

  3. Didn't Jesus clarify this? "It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” Why should I try and lead a righteous life when I am sinning probably every other day by the food I eat??

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  5. Firstly, I'd like to point out that it is INCREDIBLY EASY to abstain from eating pork, shellfish, and other unclean foods - I've been doing it for 8 years now with only a few incidents where I found out after-the-fact that something I ate had pork in it unbeknownst to me. Compared to all other aspects of my Christian walk, avoiding unclean meat is BY FAR the easiest.

    As for what Jesus said there - did He not also say in Matthew 5:18 that "till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled"? But I'll give you the more direct answer anyway:

    The Jews of Jesus' day were concerned exclusively with the physical keeping of the law, which led them to completely miss the point that the law of God is inherently spiritual. In that particular verse that you quoted, Jesus was addressing their custom of not eating without washing their hands first, which they did just in case they may have come into contact with something a Gentile had touched - like I said, they took the physical aspects to the extreme (God never commanded such a thing, but this is how zealous they were to avoid anything unclean). Jesus was not telling them that it was okay to eat unclean meat - in fact, Jesus Himself never ate anything unclean because that was (and is) a sin against God. If we desire to walk as Jesus walked, we'll avoid unclean food as well - again, which is easier: to look at the ingredient labels before you buy something and not order pork chops at a restaurant, or to avoid temptation to covet, lie, or lust? If God expects us to do the harder things, will He be pleased if we utterly ignore the things which we can easily do?

  6. Scripture dictates not eating something that dies naturally or by wild beasts because it was ill and weak or tainted with saliva from other animals. Something hit by a vehicle would be entirely different. Deer would be permissible as long as its not the part that was pulverized by the vehicle or picked at by wild animals. Wild boar would not be. And its illegal because they can’t necessarily tell who poached and who didn’t.


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