Why is Deer Meat Called Venison?


Have you ever wondered why some animals have one name when they are still alive and why we call them something else when they are ready to be eaten?

That is the case with deer and its meat – venison.

Why is Deer Meat Called Venison?

Deer meat is called “venison” because French Normans used it during the Norman invasion of the British Islands, and the name has stuck with it since then.

The “venison” word originally comes from the Latin language. Its journey went from the Latin “vēnārī” – “to hunt” through the Latin “vēnātiō” – “hunting” and Old French “veneisun” to Middle English “venisoun” meaning “meat of a game animal.”

When, in 1066, Norman French invaded what’s known today as the British Islands, they brought with them their language.

Native Anglo-Saxons were usually lower-class hunters. Unfortunately, as low-class working citizens, they were not permitted to eat the animals they hunted.

The French made most of the upper class, and they didn’t see much of the animals except once they were on their dinner plate. Therefore, the culinary terms come primarily from them.

Among other game animals, the deer was hunted and never farmed, and the epithet “venison” stuck with it over time.

Is Venison Only Deer Meat?

The word “venison” didn’t always apply to only “deer meat.”

When Norman French settled on the islands, all game animals that landed on their plates were called “venison.” And that included meat from wild boars, rabbits, and hares, but also, i.e., kangaroo and antelope (from other parts of the world.)

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To make matters easier, in the mid-’80s, USDA working with Broken Arrow Ranch, attempted to clarify the definition for labeling purposes.

After visiting Europe, where deer meat was commonly sold in supermarkets, the owner of Broken Arrow Ranch, Mark Hughes, got the idea of selling deer and antelope meat in the American market.

As a pioneer in the industry, he had to set up the labels with USDA, and that’s where the problems started.

Because the word venison was used to describe the meat of many wild animals, USDA wanted the new product to be more specific.

It was a daunting task, comprising a lot of research and studies, but as a result, the word “venison” is now used to label the meat from the deer and antelope families.

Also, like with beef or pork, venison refers to all the consumable parts of the animal.

What Other Animal’s Meat is Called Venison?

At present, there are many animals which meat we can call venison. The name refers to several large game species.

Venison is the meat of the Cervidae and antelope families.

So you can call venison the meat from a variety of big game animals you can hunt, i.e.,

  • whitetail deer
  • mule deer
  • reindeer
  • moose
  • elk
  • red deer
  • roe deer
  • axis deer
  • fallow deer
  • sika deer
  • blackbuck antelope
  • nilgai antelope

Is There Difference Between Venison and Deer Meat?

Why is Deer Meat Called Venison?

There is no difference between venison and deer meat. Deer meat is called “venison.”

There is a difference, though, between a deer and venison.

Like in the case of cow and beef, where a cow is a living creature and beef is its meat, ready for cooking and consumption, deer is a live beast and turns into venison when being prepped for food.

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What is Baby Deer Meat Called?

There is a lot of baby animals slaughtered for food. Most people don’t think about it, seeing it packaged on a shelf in the store, but they recognize the names.

A baby cow’s meat is called veal. But what about baby deer?

You would be hard-pressed to find one on the shelf in your local grocer’s.

Baby deer is called a fawn, but its meat doesn’t have any unique name in the English language. And as far as our knowledge goes, any other language.

Baby deer meat can also be called venison, the same as adult deer meat.

Some people incorrectly believe that not giving a special name to baby deer meat is because shooting baby deer is illegal, and therefore, people don’t eat the meat.

The truth is that, despite what people think, hunting fawns in most states of the U.S. is not illegal. If you have a tag for antlerless deer, fawns are also game (although it’s best to consult with your local Fish and Wildlife Services.)

There are also deer farms where you can purchase baby deer meat. So it is not that people don’t consume baby deer meat at all.

There is no significant market for baby deer meat because farming deer is not as prominent as farming cows. Fawns are considerably smaller than calves, so there would be a high price tag for that sort of meat.

Another reason for fawn meat not being popular would be ethics. Some hunters feel it’s not right to kill baby deer. Even having a clear shot, they would rather not pull the trigger.

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Venison, as the official name of deer meat, was around for a long time.

Although the word “venison” was previously describing the meat of many wild game species, like hogs and hares, it’s now mainly used to describe the meat of different types of Cervidae and antelope species.

It’s good to remember that when using the word “venison,” we describe just the meat, ready to be cooked and consumed, and not the live (or dead) animal.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>