Green Your Diet: Eat Invasive Species

Here at Eat Drink Better, we talk a lot about being eco-conscious eaters. Many of our readers are locavores, vegans, vegetarians, or flexitarians. But how many of us are ‘invasivores?’

Invasive species wreak havoc ecosystems. Whether it’s kudzu in the southern United States, lionfish in the Carribbean, or Asian carp in the Mississippi River, these non-native plants and animals are bad news for the environment.

Invasive species wipe out native species and disturb important ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling and provision of wildlife habitat. When ecosystems get disturbed, so do the services provided by ecosystems to humans, such as maintenance of water and air quality, soil fertility, control of infectious disease, and support of local economies.

A recent story in the New York Times highlighted that eating invasive species could be incredibly beneficial to the environment. If enough people learned how to identify, cook, and enjoy eating invasives, including them in our diet could help keep these exotic species in check.

James Gorman writes:

As the Locavore Hunter, based in Virginia, [Jackson Landers] teaches urbanites how to hunt and butcher deer. He has branched out from the locavore life to invasives, and lionfish are one target. But as he has pushed the envelope of the invasivore approach, he has hunted and eaten feral pigs, two species of iguana, armadillos, starlings, pigeons and resident Canada geese. . .

Mr. Landers, who grew up in a vegetarian household, taught himself to hunt. He believes that eating invasives can have a real effect. β€œWhen human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly,” he said. Our taste for passenger pigeon wiped that species out, he said. What if we developed a similar taste for starlings?

Gorman goes on to explore the possibility of broadening the definition of invasives to include species that are not necessarily exotic but extremely overpopulated in many habitats, such as deer.

I often eat venison and garden weeds like purslane and Japanese knotweed. My most adventurous invasivore pursuit was making pesto from garlic mustard, an invasive plant that poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forests of the Eastern and Midwestern U.S., but I wasn’t particularly pleased with the results.

Have you eaten any invasive species? Share your experiences (and recipes) as comments.

Image courtesy of *Kid*Doc*One* via a Creative Commons license.

8 Comments

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  1. Sounds like my chickens…my yard is the only dandelion-free yard in the neighborhood, and it is thanks to my chickens. Dandelions are their favorite food!

  2. My mother makes jelly from kudzu blossoms every year. It’s surprisingly delicious with a flavor that’s a cross between strawberry and grape.

  3. What do you think is the worst invader in recent geological history? Look in the mirror first. To blame invasive species of plants and animals for human induced disaster on a planetary scale is simply displacement. They are a symptom, not a cause, and you can never return ecologically to where you were back in the good ‘ole days. Invasion hysteria is simply one more facet of the military industrial complex (they make the herbicides). One more un-winnable war for profit. Do you seriously think that the native concept is even valid when all the ecosystems and even the climates are changed? Think for yourselves , people.

    • Obviously humans are the cause of invasions. It’s human activities that introduce and facilitate the spread of invasive species.

      Controlling invasive species is not about returning ecosystems to some pre-existing “natural” state. It’s about maintaining some sort of semblance of functioning ecosystems.

      Invasive species do much more than displace native species. They can completely disrupt ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and control of infectious diseases – processes that we and and all other lifeforms depend on.

      So I think it’s worth pursuing all sustainable modes (i.e., not herbicides, which have been shown in some cases to facilitate invasions) of controlling invasive species.

      • Well said. Eating invasive species is a perfectly sensible (not to mention, elegantly simple) way to control them. Somebody said a weed is just a plant nobody has found a use for, yet. Food is a great use for the right “weeds,” and there are probably plenty of other invasive species whose value just hasn’t been discovered — yet. Bring ’em on.

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