Culinary Bio-Control: A Short Look at Eating Invasive Species
It is no secret that invasive species or non-native species whose introduction causes economic, environmental or human harm are causing an alarming amount of damage the world over. The number of invasives grows annually and shows no sign of stopping. For example, Grass carps, which are incredibly voracious Eurasian fishes, were found reproducing in Lake Erie just this November. More well known are Asian carps, which are large, aggressive and adaptable fishes that have been outcompeting native species in much of the mid-section of the United States ever since they were first introduced in the 1970s. Asian carps are also on the verge of invading the Great Lakes and devastating their ecosystems. These aquatic examples are not alone in their destructive path: “nationwide, invasive species…are destroying farms and fisheries, causing economic damage that has been estimated at $120 billion a year”. While effort after effort to halt the spread of invasive species has failed, many have turned to a new solution with a simple maxim: “if you can’t beat it, eat it”.
The practice of eating invasive species, although it does face many hurdles, has been gaining popularity. A notable example of this practice is the consumption of gray squirrels in Britain. Gray squirrels, which are aggressive competitors with the native red squirrels of Nutkin fame, may be the most loathed animals in Britain. As such, eating these invasives is viewed as a patriotic act, so much so that butchers can hardly keep up with the demand for gray squirrel meat. Indeed, they have even been dubbed “the ultimate ethical meal”. Miya’s Sushi, a four-star restaurant in New Haven, also prides itself on serving invasive species. The restaurant’s owner, Bun Lai, creates dishes that adhere to the roots of sushi, using local species as ingredients. This has put many invasives such as Asian shore crabs and wakame seaweed on the menu, with delectable results. As Lai sees it, not only is the resultant food delicious, but also beneficial both economically and environmentally. “By collecting invasive seafood on shellfish beds,” he states, “we basically provide a free weeding service.” Famous invasives such as the Asian carp are also beginning to appear on the table. Louisiana Chef Philippe Parola, who has been frustrated with the lack of federal action to halt the spread of Asian carp, has started a campaign to make the fish a culturally desired food item. According to Parola, the flesh of Asian carp is akin to crabmeat, being light, mild and flaky. Not to mention, as an invasive species, it’s in bountiful supply.
Yet like all possible solutions to the invasive species problem, the gastronomic resolution is far from foolproof. Some of this has to do with the bad press attached to many invasives. Asian carp, for example, is commonly thought of as “trash fish,” common to the point of uselessness and disgusting in flavor. Cultural bias, however, only accounts for half of the story. One needs to look no further than the explosion of feral pigs to see evidence of this. Feral pigs, which cause at least $1 billion in damage in the U.S. each year, initially became invasive when, in 1989, American sportsmen started trucking them all over the country (Hirsch 28). In the 21st century, hunting offers little hope of controlling their population, even though wild boar meat is a popular food item at restaurants and elsewhere. Wild pigs are tougher, smarter, and breed faster than most game. As such, hunting, even with helicopters, will not get rid of the wild pigs, no matter how popular their meat is. As John Mayer, one of the world’s foremost wild-pig authorities has put it, “‘We’re not going to shoot or trap our way out of this’” (Hirsch 29). It is obvious that not all invasive species can be controlled by the practice of adding them to our diets, but incorporating them into the menu does lessen the damage they do, even if just a little.
Eat The Invaders: Fighting Invasive Species, One Bite at a Time. http://eattheinvaders.org/
Hirsch, Jesse. “Who Can Stop These Adorable Pigs? Voracious. Destructive. Radioactive. Wild boars take over.” In Modern Farmer, Issue 01, Spring 2013. 27-29.
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