Eating invasive species – diverse foods on your plate!

We’ve all heard about extinctions and endangered species. These include not only pandas and Siberian tigers, but also many food species. An organization called RAFT (Restoring America’s Food Traditions) has catalogued over 1,100 American plant and animal species that are on the verge of extinction.

The opposite problem also exists – too many of a species, in the wrong place. “Wrong place” (as defined by humans) means a plant or animal has entered a region where it normally doesn’t live, and we call these “invasive.” Of course, natural environments have always changed over time, and what was invasive a thousand years ago is now native to a place. Our terms take the short-term view.

In any case, some of these newbies to a region can be really threatening (by eating or out-competing native life) or just seriously inconvenient, such as kudzu. The latest idea for solving two problems at once is:  Eat the invaders! Elisabeth Rosenthal, one of my favorite New York Times writers, describes some of these initiatives. Lionfish and Asian carp are on the menu, and if you eat them instead of endangered or overfished species such as Chilean sea bass and grouper, you may be helping nature.

Environmentalists can see the plus side, including some of the folks at the Nature Conservancy (which works globally to preserve ecosystems and species) and Food and Water Watch (which reports on problems in industrial food and advocates for solutions)

There are downsides, though. What if fishers use unsustainable methods to catch these fish? What if they grew in waters that are contaminated? Such problems already exist with many species we already eat. Lionfish


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