What's the Deal with...Invasivorism?
You know that thing? That thing that sounds like something you should already know about, so you don’t really want to ask? Well, we know about it, and we’ll give you the intel. Welcome to What’s the Deal With.
Feral hogs are pretty cute. Photo credit: Getty Images
The new kid on the block of foodie terminology has surfaced over the last few years, but the trend is anything but new: People have been eating invasive species for ages.
A recent article showcasing Connecticut chef Bun Lai as he chased down that evening’s menu offerings (Asian shore crabs) as they scuttled along the shoreline thrust invasivorism even further into the spotlight. To get the full story, we spoke to Joe Roman, conservation biologist at The University of Vermont, author of the website Eat the Invaders, and dedicated invasivore.
What It Is: Invasivorism is the act of eating invasive species, on purpose, in order to lower their numbers, or “directing our appetite in a way that could have a positive impact,” says Roman. An “invasivore” is one who practices this.
Where It Comes From: "Almost everything we really like to eat, we’ve lowered their numbers or even brought them to extinction," says Roman. Invasivorism has been around for thousands of years. In America, Roman points to the example of passenger pigeons. "We ate them in pies. By the end of the nineteenth century, they were gone.”
Defining Characteristic: The creature itself must be presenting a sustainability problem because of its overabundance, such as the Asian carp that have been dominating the Mississippi River over the last several years.
Most Problematic Invasive Species: Roman immediately thinks of feral hogs, which he says are “highly invasive here [in America],” where we have about 5 million feral hogs. They’ve been a huge problem in Texas and are making their way north: “They just showed up in New York, and are making their way to Vermont.” He points to Cuba as a model, where citizens have consumed feral hogs in order to reduce their numbers.
Best Intro Invasivore Food: The Eat the Invaders website is a good starting point; Roman points to burdock, “delicious” bay lilies, Japanese notweed (“perfect for chutneys!”), and dandelions as easy-to-find-and-eat invasive species.
The Risks: Roman acknowledges that there is a small risk of popularizing invasives to the point that they are over-consumed. “The big warning,” as he puts it, is people thinking, “Asian carp are awesome, let’s move them to a new river! Let’s put them in California!” He qualifies that: “I think that that risk is small given that most people are environmentally conscious that have taken on this movement. If it was commercialized, it’s possible that there would be an increased demand.” Roman points to periwinkles, an invasive European snail, by way of example: “There are millions of them. I don’t think we’re gonna eat them to extinction.”
What Motivates Invasivores: "It’s a great way where culinary interest can meet sustainability or ecological interest," says Roman, pointing out that the two are "often at odds.” Here, by contrast, “you can really do the right thing and it’s actually enjoyable.”