The movement known as invasivorism, the eating of local invasive species, is believed to have started a few years ago (2008-09) when attention was building over what to do about the lionfish population explosion along the Atlantic coast, and the flying Asian carp in the Midwest. The suggestion to eat these creatures was inspired by concerned local sportsmen, environmentalists, and foraging bloggers.
Nonprofit interest groups, government departments of natural resources, and environmental organizations, developed marketing strategies to encourage hunting, fishing, and foraging of nonnative invasive species as a means to control them, some wielding slogans like: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em! Professional chefs were encouraged to develop recipes for public and restaurant use, and how-to guides and videos on catching and preparing the critters for cooking were released freely to the public.
Locavore: someone who tries to eat only locally grown foods.
Lesson 1: Educate Yourself!
To be a successful invasivore, you should check the federal, state, and local laws for any permits or certifications required to hunt or harvest an invasive. There may be a specific season, size limits, restricted areas, or even preferred times, for the best harvest. You surely do not want to collect an invasive plant that has been sprayed with an herbicide earlier in the day, or hunt an animal where traps have been carefully set. Some plants need to be contained in sealable bags so that none of their parts are scattered while in transit to spread elsewhere.
You would also hate to find that your method of gathering resulted in increased growth of the unwanted plant instead of a decline (leaving the roots of kudzu for example), or that you discarded a portion of the invasive that could be sold (the pelts and teeth of nutrias). There may be certain parts of the nonnative plant or animal that are better to eat than others are, some parts could be poisonous or irritating to the body.
Authorities can be extremely helpful in answering questions, or informing us about what we do not know enough to ask. Officials may want to keep track of the numbers of the nonnative that are removed, the location found, and method used to harvest. The more information gathered could help with future control funding and education programs.
Some communities whose environments are critically overwhelmed with an edible alien species sponsor harvesting and dining events to help eradicate the invaders. This could be a potluck dinner featuring the invasive as the main course, numerous recipes experimented with, or just one popular dish to share with everyone. You could learn a good deal in the company of more knowledgeable and experienced people and have fun interacting with like-minded folks!
Lesson 2: Ready Recipes
To advance your invasivore tutelage, you will need proven recipes from reliable sources, and here is one of my favorites: Invasivore.org. It has a blog theme with good articles and recipes. Making up a recipe on the fly now and again for foods we are familiar with is fine, but until you learn the properties of the invasive you will be eating, you should stay with tried and true recipes furnished by those with more experience. If the plant or animal is advertised as being similar to a commonly eaten plant or animal, it is possible to use existing recipes, substituting the invasive, but double-check sources to be safe. Here are a few links to more information and recipes to get you started.
A few more questions you might ask authorities in your area:
Here are some great web sites with general invasive species recipes and additional information:
Lesson 3: Proper Plan
Now that you are armed with knowledge and recipes for a few invasives, you need a proper plan! Find the best places in your area to forage for your free food. Check if a permit, or permission, is required. Maybe you would like to plan a weekend trip or vacation to an area that has the invasive you want to try. Most areas devastated by nonnative species will gladly help accommodate your wishes.
Invite others to join you, or if you are foraging alone, at least tell others where you are going and what you intend to do. It is much safer, more fun, and quicker to forage with a partner. Kids make most of my woodland trips especially fun and educational. They ask plenty of questions, notice every little thing, and can always find the fun in something, or make me search for it, even on the most miserable days!
Make sure you have the right equipment. Do you need boots, or will sneakers do? Could you possibly use a jacket, hat, gloves, long pants, sunglasses, sunscreen, drinking water, or a change of socks and shoes if your feet get wet? Are there any special tools needed, like a knife, shears, net, etc.? Do you need plastic bags that seal, paper bags, or baskets to contain your harvest? Should you have a cooler to keep your gathered food from spoiling until to get home?
Map your adventure for future excursions! In our present digital wi-fi world, there are many free and inexpensive mapping programs for your smart phone, iPhone, PDA, GPS, or laptop, which can document your movements and location in real time. They can calculate the miles you have hiked or driven, show elevation, latitude-longitude, and nearest state and US routes, as well as, produce printable maps (sometimes at a price) for later use or to share with other invasivores. Search the Internet, or "Market" feature of your smart phone, for an application to use. Good sites to check: Geocaching.com, iMapMyRun.com, and Cnet.com, for programs. In addition, if you take your cell phone, you have a means to call for help if needed!
As is most always the case, invasive species foraging is very successful, yielding plenty of food for many meals. Certainly more food than can be consumed by one person in one sitting. You will have to find the best method to preserve the bounty (canning, freezing, drying, etc.), OR, invite a few friends over for dinner!
I have learned a few things from past foraging experiences, and from pulling the information together for this article. First, invasive species are much more nutritious than the manufactured or processed foods we have become used to eating. The wild critters are the epitome of free-range, pastured meats, without chemicals, preservatives, antibiotics, or hormones. Second, some of the nonnative plants and animals are traditionally eaten in their home countries with much enthusiasm (most are delicacies), and were introduced to new territories by immigrants who missed having them. Last, many of these invasives would not be so invasive if they were harvested and eaten on a regular basis as they are in their homelands!
Potential natural animal predators are not eating the nonnative for the same reasons people are not eating them! They are not sure what they are, how to eat them, or fear they may be poisonous, or taste bad. They will eventually learn to eat them, possibly only after the invasive species has displaced the native species and hunger prevails over ignorance. That leaves man as the "smart" dominate predator, who can help correct the imbalance (that he likely created) much more quickly!
With food costs continuing to increase, I hope this article has given you enough resources to locate, prepare, and eat these FREE foods! You will be on your way to becoming an invasivore! Or maybe you are like me, already an invasivore! You just did not know there was a term for it! I do my part to keep the autumn olive berries in check around here! Either way, let's get down to eatin' and enjoyin' life!