The rapid warming of the Arctic may delight those keen on easier shipping, but it’s been nothing but terrible news for reindeer and their human overseers. On the Yamal Peninsula, the indigenous Nenet people are watching in horror as their precous herds break legs upon the gravel now popping up from the melted permafrost. And in Alaska, a bare 10,000 reindeer now roam the state’s wildlands, down 600,000 just a century ago.
But a reindeer expert hopes to reverse the Alaskan decline, at least, by using a rater counter-intuitive method: he wants to turn reindeer into a more widely enjoyed delicacy:
Greg Finstad is head of the reindeer program at UAF and a man who has wrangled reindeer alongside Alaska Natives for 25 years. He ordered a 45-foot self-contained slaughter plant, winterized it, had it barged to Nome, and helped design a “high-latitude range management course” at the university campus there…
One of Finstad’s goals with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project is to teach local people how to process reindeer using the plant, which is approved by the USDA and will result in inspected steaks, backstrap, burger, and other cuts of meat.
“(Inspected meat) is worth a lot more money,” Finstad said. “It can be sold to restaurants and stores. It’s the key to success in the reindeer field.”
This strikes us as a rather brilliant idea, actually. Yes, the logic is a bit tough to grok, as the short-term effect is that more reindeer will be killed by humans. But by increasing demand for reindeer meat, Finstad’s program will also increase the value of each individual animal, and thus provide incentive for locals to preserve and grow their thinning herds.
The one potential pitfall we foresee: will reindeer meat ever be able to compete on price with such gamey cousins as buffalo? We’re willing to give the dish a try, but not if it’s gonna run a fortune per pound. Is the taste so magnificent that deep-pocketed diners in the Lower 48 will pay whatever for the privilege?