For thousands upon thousands of Americans, hunting and fishing is still a way of life, even in these modern times. Now, I’m not saying that they don’t venture to the grocery store once a week or so or that they don’t buy meats at a local deli. However, not all of their proteins come from usual livestock animals such as cows and pigs for these men and women.

Take the people who live in the rural area of Indiana I call home, for example.

Most of us end up at the grocery to buy essentials at least once a week. And things like bacon, ham, steaks, and ribs are most certainly bought, along with the usual veggies, fruits, and bread. We aren’t so backward that we still like it’s 1820.

But most of us don’t have to buy all that much – mostly because our freezers are also stocked with venison, wild turkey, rabbit, and catfish hunted and fished from our own backyards.

To some, it may sound odd or even gross, but to us and the millions around the country like us, it’s only normal. And oh, so good.

I mean, is there anything quite like a mess of freshly caught catfish in the summer? Or what about those marinated and bacon-wrapped deer steaks everybody goes on and on about at Christmas dinner?

And of course, there is the added pleasure of knowing that you are providing for family and saving money simultaneously, not to mention carrying on a family tradition.

However, like all foods, there are safety precautions to keep in mind.

Venison, for example, is similar in texture, taste, and color to beef. As such, I substitute it for nearly everything that I would usually use beef for, with a few exceptions.

But, as it comes from a wild animal and is not subjected to the same immunizations and such as cows breed for food are, you do have to be careful that it is safe to eat before you go about cooking with it – you know, thinks like checking for discoloring or strange smells much like you would any meats bought in a grocery.

Bear can also be used much like beef, in most cases. However, it is a little trickier to cook.

Unlike venison and beef that can be cooked to a desired wellness, bear needs to be cooked much more thoroughly, like pork or most other white meats. If not, you could end up with a bad case of trichinosis.  

And according to recent studies, squirrels must be treated much the same, although not all of the squirrel.

In particular, we are talking about eating squirrel brains.

Now, I know, if you are anything like me, even coming from a hunting family doesn’t mean squirrel brains sounds all that appetizing. But I assure you, it’s pretty much a delicacy in some areas.

However, recent studies have found a link to this bizarre food and a rare condition known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD.

According to the CDC, CJD is a “neurodegenerative disorder” usually “caused by an abnormal isoform of a cellular glycoprotein know as prion protein.” Essentially, the disease makes you lose your mind. And it is usually fatal.

However, as I mentioned above, it is quite rare. Per Live Science, only a few hundred people have ever been diagnosed with it, and most of those came from an outbreak of “mad cow disease” in the 1980 and 90s in the United Kingdom. According to the National Institutes of Health, only one in one million people get it every year – worldwide.

This makes it exceptionally rare that four cases have been diagnosed at the Rochester Regional Health hospital in Rochester, New York, in the past three years.

One was reported by Live Science to be a 61-year-old man who had seemingly lost touch with reality after going on a hunting trip and eating squirrel brains. It is unknown exactly why this occurs in some cases and not in others. As with bear meat, it could be that only some squirrels are infected.

However, it could also have to do with the way it was cooked.

I’m sure if you asked Duck Dynasty’s Miss Kay, who is known to often serve this food to her family, she’d have an opinion.

As for me, I suggest that if you plan on cooking meats from anywhere other than a grocery, you plan on doing a little research to know exactly how to do it. Oh’ and maybe just avoid brains altogether.