October 4, 2022

Thrive Insider

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Invasivorism: An Ethical Solution to Dealing with Invasive Species?

The term “invasivorism” was coined to describe the strategy of eating invasive species as a method of controlling their numbers. It’s a boundary-pushing strategy that pairs ethical eating with invasive-species warfare. 

  • There are currently 4,300 listings of destructive invasive species in the US.

Can We Really Eat Our Way Out of Invasive Species?

One of the first scientists to promote gastronomy as a tool to combat species invasion was Joe Roman, a conservation ecologist at the University of Vermont. He articulated a simple thesis: 

  • If we can hunt native species to extinction, as we have done down the ages, why not use our insatiable human appetites against invaders?

Roman’s audacious idea to eat invasives out of existence made little impact at first. Roman wanted people to regard nutria as not just a swamp rodent but also as a potential egg roll ingredient. 

It was a hard sell! However, Roman did not give up. He began teaming up with professional cooks, who were more skilled at dressing up invasives as culinary delights. 

Enter Bun Lai

One of these chefs was Bun Lai, a sushi artist who was already a leader in the ethical dining movement. In 2014, Roman and Lai served Asian shore crabs and wild boar to other interested foodies from various countries at Colorado’s Chefs Sustainable Food Summit.

Lai’s knack of consistently turning the abstract idea of invasivorism into a mainstay of high-concept menus made him a celebrity and netted him the 2016 White House Champion of Change Award for Sustainable Seafood. A typical meal at prices of up to $425 per person might be:

  • Appetizers of shavings of cannonball jellyfish (along the Georgia coast, the population has exploded) and sashimi made from Florida lionfish.
  • Main courses of Asian shore crab (devastating populations of native mud crabs in the Chesapeake Bay) served with invasive plants or gyoza dumplings bursting with wild boar (in Texas, their criminality includes scarfing up endangered sea turtles).
  • A delicious dessert might be mochi ice cream flavored with mugwort (known for an aggressive underground root system that shoves aside native plants).
  • Lai believes that invasivorism has crucial benefits for the planet. Eating wild boar and nutria instead of beef reduces greenhouse gases. Eating plants regarded as weeds helps reduce the amount of harmful pesticides and herbicides used. 

For Invasivorism to Succeed, Food Has to Taste Good

There is a non-negotiable baseline to determine whether the human appetite can be harnessed for ecological virtue – the fugitive fauna or flora must taste good!

Let’s take a look at the snakehead fish (Channa argus), an invasive species found in bodies of water across the US. Snakefish are truly ugly but are delicious to eat – mild, sweet-tasting with no fishy aftertaste. To overcome its unattractive appearance, snakefish are sometimes labeled as Chesapeake channa to make it sound … well, less serpentine.

  • The Chilean sea bass, a fish found on many restaurant menus, once had a similar problem. Its original offputting name? The Patagonian toothfish.

Will Invasivorism Work?

Turning invasive species into gourmet eating could reduce environmental and economic costs across the US. This new approach to dining lets you eat a delicious meal and help the environment all at the same time.