Edible Conservation: Eating the Enemy

Asian carp clogging Mississippi waterways. Lionfish destroying Caribbean reefs. Burmese pythons devouring the Everglades’ wildlife. Wild boars gorging on endangered sea turtle eggs.

These and other invasive species are wreaking havoc on fragile natural ecosystems.

In response, a culinary movement spearheaded by conservation groups and sustainably minded chefs is gathering steam, with a clear message: Eat the invaders.

Invasive species have debuted at novelty dinners. Last spring the Georgia chapter of the Society of Conservation Biology announced an Invasive Species Hog Roast. The Fertile Earth Foundation held a Miami gala that included smoked python and adobo-rubbed snakehead fish.

But they’re also showing up on more restaurant menus. I recently dined on grilled lionfish at Francis Coppola’s Turtle Inn resort in Belize. And at California’s Post Ranch Inn, chef John Cox served diced moon jellyfish with lemon and ginger. Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, has developed an expanding menu of invasives, including the Asian shore crab, one of the most destructive species on the New England coast.

Can we beat back these biological menaces that threaten the survival of native species? Some scientists think the problem is too big to eat our way out of.

Perhaps, but given the human appetite for consuming creatures to near extinction (think bluefin tuna), I think we can take a big bite out of the problem.

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This piece, written by Costas Christ, first appeared in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow Costas on Twitter at @costaschrist.

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