TV show puts veni­son on the menu in visit to New Lon­don meal cen­ter

Outreach cam­paign brings aware­ness to na­tional hunger through an­nual tours

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By GREG SMITH Day Staff Writer

New Lon­don — The re­ac­tions among din­ers at the city’s soup kitchen when they found out veni­son was on the din­ner menu ranged from, “bring it on,” to “I’m not eat­ing Bambi!”

More than 100 peo­ple, some strug­gling with home­less­ness and oth­ers just down on their luck, lined up at the New Lon­don Com­mu­nity Meal Cen­ter on Thurs­day for a spe­cial din­ner of veni­son sloppy Joes served up by a group of vol­un­teers whose mis­sion is to bring aware­ness to the na­tion­wide fight against hunger.

The vol­un­teers pitched in their

ef­forts as part of the Hunt. Fish. Feed. outreach cam­paign, an­nual tours that started 10 years ago by the Sportsman Chan­nel to visit ar­eas of high poverty and home­less­ness to show­case game meat and fish as an un­der­uti­lized food source. Com­cast, the lo­cal spon­sor for the cam­paign’s first visit to Con­necti­cut, pro­vided much of the kitchen help.

Hunt. Fish. Feed. Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Scott Leysath, host of the Sport­ing Chef and Dead Meat, said he’s been trav­el­ing across the coun­try in part to show­case the gen­eros­ity of hunters and the out­door com­mu­nity as they do­nate lo­cally sourced meat and fish for a wor­thy cause.

Leysath has been in­volved with the cam­paign since the start and said the pro­gram also helps peo­ple un­der­stand the hunt­ing com­mu­nity a lit­tle bit bet­ter and ed­u­cates the pub­lic about how nat­u­ral re­sources can com­bat the prob­lem.

Deer meat, one of the more fre­quent meals the group pre­pares, is ex­pen­sive to pur­chase but of­ten lo­cally avail­able from hunters. It also is bet­ter in many ways than beef — leaner and lower in sat­u­rated fat and higher in pro­tein and vi­ta­mins and min­er­als. Leysath knows some­thing about pre­par­ing it, be­ing the au­thor of The Sport­ing Chef’s Bet­ter Veni­son Cook­book.

“Peo­ple worry about whether their game meat is safe to eat. Re­ally, it’s the chicken they should be wor­ried about… the way it is raised,” he said. “There’s also a stigma that it will be gamey when it’s re­ally not.”

Leysath of­fered tastes of the meat to any­one who was ini­tially hes­i­tant to try it.

There were few com­plaints in the din­ing room at Thurs­day’s meal, and for those who did not care to try the deer meat there was At­lantic Spiny Dog­fish, a do­na­tion of left­overs from Brig aid’s Wed­nes­day

Dur­ing some of the more than 15 stops across the coun­try this year the Hunt. Fish. Feed. cam­paign has pre­pared meals that have in­cluded wild turkey, elk and wild boar. In a re­cent stop out­side of Seat­tle the group cooked up 150 pounds of Chi­nook salmon do­nated by the Nisqually In­dian Tribe.

night com­mu­nity meal at Ben­nie Dover Jack­son Mid­dle School.

“I’m down with the deer. I wouldn’t have known if they didn’t tell me,” said one man who de­clined to give his name.

Dur­ing some of the more than 15 stops across the coun­try this year the Hunt. Fish. Feed. cam­paign has pre­pared meals that have in­cluded wild turkey, elk and wild boar. In a re­cent stop out­side of Seat­tle the group cooked up 150 pounds of Chi­nook salmon do­nated by the Nisqually In­dian Tribe.

The veni­son served on Thurs­day did not come from lo­cal hunters, since it is just the start of hunt­ing sea­son lo­cally. The deer in­stead was farm raised, Leysath said.

Com­cast has re­mained the pri­mary part­ner in pro­gram, set­ting up lo­ca­tions to visit and pro­vid­ing the man­power to prep and serve the meals.

New Lon­don Com­mu­nity Meals Cen­ter Kitchen Man­ager Peta Madry said she’s pre­pared veni­son on oc­ca­sion, when­ever it is do­nated.

The meal cen­ter serves in the neigh­bor­hood of 72,000 meals in a year, any­where between 150 and 300 meals between the week­day lunch and din­ner ser­vices. The vast ma­jor­ity of the food served comes from the Gemma Moran United Way Food Cen­ter.

Madry said the meal cen­ter ac­cepts food do­na­tions from all kinds of places. She re­called a time when the freez­ers at Gross­man’s Seafood were on the fritz and they im­me­di­ately con­tacted her to see if she would ac­cept a do­na­tion of 100 pounds of scal­lops. She did.

She said Salem Val­ley Farms Ice Cream con­tacted her this year to let her know they were wel­comed to the what­ever is left­over when they close at the end of the month.

The Gemma Moran United Way Food Cen­ter, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­er­ates more than 80 pro­grams in New Lon­don County, takes pride in of­fer­ing a wide va­ri­ety of fresh pro­duce in ad­di­tion to the pro­teins for the meals, said Jen­nifer Blanco, the group’s mem­ber ser­vices man­ager. About 60 per­cent of the food is do­nated, while fi­nan­cial do­na­tions cover the pur­chase of the rest of the food needed on a daily ba­sis.

“We’re very lucky to have such a gen­er­ous com­mu­nity,” Blanco said.

Madry said vis­i­tors to the meal cen­ter are not all home­less, but rather a mix of peo­ple who have ei­ther fallen on hard times or sit­u­a­tions where they’re forced in some cases to choose between food and rent.

Over the eight years she’s run the kitchen, Madry said she’s seen an in­crease in younger peo­ple, some with sub­stance abuse is­sues.

The back­ground mu­sic for Thurs­day’s din­ner was pro­vided by vi­o­lin­ist Joan Win­ters and vi­o­list Bar­bara Wig­gin, part of a pi­lot outreach pro­gram of the East­ern Con­necti­cut Sym­phony Orches­tra. Thanks to a grant from the New Lon­don Ro­tary, the orches­tra is try­ing to bring mu­sic into more lo­ca­tions in the com­mu­nity, said the orches­tra’s Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Caleb Bai­ley.

TIM MARTIN/THE DAY

Scott Leysath of the tele­vi­sion show “The Sport­ing Chef” pre­pares 60 pounds of veni­son for sloppy Joes at the New Lon­don Com­mu­nity Meal Cen­ter on Thurs­day. Leysath is work­ing with Com­cast’s Sportsman Chan­nel in the show “Hunt.Fish.Feed.” Hunters do­nate game meat and fish to the hun­gry. The chan­nel launches tours to cities with in­creas­ing home­less­ness and poverty.

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