Wild Food in West Virginia: The Foodways Footprint of Whitetail Deer in the Mountain State

Authors: Heidi Gum*, West Virginia University, Jonathan C. Hall , West Virginia University
Topics: food systems
Keywords: food insecurity, West Virginia, whitetail deer, hunting, poverty
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the United States, rates of food insecurity are highest in both urban and rural communities, particularly among the economically disadvantaged, women, and people of color. In West Virginia, these rates are among the highest in the nation with 1 in 6 people classified as food insecure. Despite its nutritional and cultural importance, little research has been conducted on the presence and impact of wild foods on West Virginia foodways. Here we analyze white tailed deer harvest data in West Virginia to better understand the role of wild food in the state’s food system. We also examine socio-economic and landscape factors that influence the rates of big game harvesting within the state. Our results show that white tailed deer have a substantial and largely unrecognized foodways footprint within West Virginia. The per capita deer harvest in West Virginia is the highest among neighboring states for the last five years. We discovered multiple variables that impeded West Virginians’ access to hunting. These include but are not limited to access to public land, time, economic, and labor costs, unemployment, and poverty rates in the state. Furthermore, the relationship between reliance on food-related government assistance programs and yearly harvest rates of whitetail deer holds a significantly negative correlation. To our knowledge this is one of the first studies within the state that attempts to account for wild game in food systems. Wild game is a largely unaccounted for resource that food insecure communities may rely on and that current food systems research underestimates.

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