The New Year is upon us, and the time is ripe for exploring new places, meeting new people, and, of course, sampling new foods. One emerging food group worth sampling is that of invasive species. The term “invasive species” refers to species of plants, insects, or animals that have been introduced to an area or eco-system to which they are not native. Such species generally have no natural predators in these new areas and they quickly overwhelm local plant and animal populations, often profoundly altering local ecosystems. In extreme cases, an invasive species may completely eliminate the local species that formerly occupied a similar ecological niche, as the Nile Perch did to Lake Victoria’s 300 species of indigenous cichlids when it was introduced to the lake in the 1950s. Dozens of invasive species currently thrive in the United States, including wild boar in the Pacific Northwest, kudzu in the South, and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.
As popular fish species like tuna and salmon become increasingly overfished and the healthfulness and ethics of conventional farmed livestock is called into question, some people are attempting to turn the misfortune of invasive species into a culinary blessing through ‘invasivorism.’ These “invasivores” structure their diet around the consumption of invasive species in an effort to stem the growth of invasive populations, and in some cases, in an effort to relieve pressure on certain other, similar species, especially fish. As the species consumed by invasivores are usually wild, consumers have the added benefit of pesticide-free, antibiotic-free, and according to some, ‘guilt-free’ food.
In recent years, chefs have begun to tune into the invasivore frequency in a dual attempt to capitalize on the issue and ameliorate the effects of invasive species on local ecosystems. Chef Bun Lai of New Haven’s Miya Sushi, for example, offers customers a separate menu he calls his “Invasive Species menu.” The menu features numerous species of seafood that are currently troubling local waters, including the lion fish, European green crabs, and a bouillabase made from bycatch (“accidental” catch, in this case starfish, snails, and other small marine animals) from commercial fishing. This unique approach to cuisine is sure to be replicated elsewhere as conscientious consumers seek to tailor their diet to environmental concerns in ways that go beyond the local and organic.
If this all sounds intriguing, there exist a number of online resources to nudge prospective invasivores in the right direction. Invasivore.org is one such resource. The site offers curious eaters an interactive map of the United States that allows them to locate areas that are currently battling an introduced species, and provides information on the alien species in question. It also features a table of invasive species in the United States. The table currently lists twenty-six species with thirty-one accompanying recipes to show fledgling invasivores how to enjoy their foreign catch. With dishes like goldenrod bruschetta, cajun style crayfish, and spicy salmon tacos, it’s clear that even the most dedicated invasivores won’t have to skimp on delicious meals. So for a resolution you might actually enjoy, why not resolve to eat an invasive species in 2012?
- Chelsea Newson