Pop quiz: what do Kudzu, feral pigs, bullfrogs and knotweed all have in common? Answer: They are invasive species that can wreak havoc on ecosystems in North America. Bonus Answer: They are also edible, and even considered delicacies in their native lands. Put those two answers together, and we’ve got a formula to eat our way to freedom from these invaders!
A new “invasivore” trend consists of helping to control invasive species by putting them in our bellies. Advocates market it as an ethical food choice with slogans like “Eating Aliens“ and “Eradication by Mastication.” (They have a certain ring to them.)
But this largely untrodden culinary path for Americans requires some serious guidance. Fortunately, the website Invasivore.org—run by an international group of biologists—tracks news on invasive species and provides advice about consuming them. Website head Andrew Deines claims that “eating your enemies feels really good. But the real goal is to help people understand invasive species a little better and bring attention to their impacts.”
Curious to try some invasive flora and fauna already prepared for you? Well another group that supports invasivore behavior, the Institute for Applied Ecology, has been sponsoring an annual Invasive Species Cook-off in Oregon in recent summers to add momentum. Families, business groups and student activists attend the festival and sample exotic dishes, including submissions from local chefs. Last’s year’s first-prize winner served wild boar marinated in a collection of plants dubbed “invasive kimchi”: fermented borage flowers (originally from the Mediterranean), Himalayan blackberry (despite its name, it actually comes from Iran and Armenia), purslane (from various Old World regions), and Queen Anne's Lace (from Europe and Asia).
While it may be appealing to sink our teeth into every last foreign species destroying our ecosystems, sadly some invasive organisms are unsuited for consumption out of safety concerns. Invasivores would love to barbeque some of the python that have invaded Florida, after all the massive serpents are considered prime meat in native Burma. But as Deines’ website reveals, for unknown reasons python meat accumulates levels of mercury significantly too high for safe eating. Likewise, the FDA explicitly prohibits selling certain invasive species for consumption, like nutria, a bayou-damaging rodent from South America introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s. (Although a high-profile Baton Rouge chef insists nutria is “the best red meat you’ve ever had.”)
But just because some alien species aren’t cut out to satiate our hunger, doesn’t mean there aren’t other consumption possibilities. One Illinois businessman, “Butch” Magee, wants to turn a profit from another invading species in the bayous: Asian carp. Millions of these fish clog the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and they confound the efforts of fishermen seeking native species.
American consumers are turned off by the fish species’ plethora of tiny bones, so Magee created America’s first industrial carp processing plant to turn loads of carp into fish oil, fish meal and bone meal for animal feed. Now our livestock can stick it to invasive species too!
Exploiting destructive invading organisms for capitalistic gain—what could be more ideally American? What’s more, we don’t have to feel bad about targeting a species to the point of regional extinction—in fact, that’s the whole point!