Aliens for Dinner

Carnivores, herbivores, omnivores and… invasivores? There is a new dining fad sweeping the nation, and it might just be our most sustainable food option yet. Invasivores are people who incorporate invasive or alien species into their regular diet. Aside from providing sustenance, this movement provides another key benefit: ridding North American land and water of invasive species.

Invasive species are those plants, insects, and animals that are introduced into a new ecosystem and are able to grow rapidly in population due to the lack of natural predators present in their native habitats. They take over their new ecosystems, alter the biodiversity of a given region, and threaten the health of habitats. Each year, invasive species management costs the U.S. more than $138 billion.1 A seemingly obvious way to eradicate these unwanted species? Eat them.

There are countless upsides to this new scenario. Invasive species flourish in their newfound habitats, which mean they are readily accessible in great quantities. Further, serving invasive species at mealtime means less pressure on other common food. For instance, it can lead to decreased ecological burdens—including reduced greenhouse gas emissions—caused by conventional meat production. Finally, invasive species can be both nutritious and delicious.

The challenge lies in convincing North Americans to embrace new and exotic food sources into their diet. Kudzu, a rapid-growing climbing plant with Asian origins, is a major pest in the U.S. Chef Jason Bigas is changing that conception, seeing kudzu less as a pest and more as an ingredient. He has fermented the invasive plant and created a delectable kimchi.

Beyond vegetarian options, though, there are more obstacles. The invasive animal species Asian carp is a staple at lunch and dinner in Asian countries, but it may struggle to make it in the U.S. The fish gives eaters a mouthful of bones, which most Americans may find burdensome.2 One solution might be rebranding invasive species to make them seem closer to home. For example, some fisheries have been renaming Asian carp as “Kentucky tuna” to make it more familiar to diners.3

Events like the Annual Invasive Species Cook-Off that takes place in Oregon are a great first step in making an invasivore lifestyle more mainstream. These events create a collaborative space where adventurous chefs, foodies, and activists alike can work together and sample new and interesting dishes. Some examples of invasive species ingredients from last year’s cook-off cuisine include feral pig, wild turkey, bull frog, dandelions, and sorrel. If you are interested in cooking invasives, keep an eye out for the Eradication by Mastication cookbook, coming soon from the Institute for Applied Ecology.