A splash of recent media got me thinking about a concept that isn’t really new, but one that I think takes sustainable food to a whole new level. The idea is eating invasive species. The world is filled with disaster stories of animals moving in and overrunning a new territory. Here in the US we have various snakes in Florida, Asia Carp threatening to destroy the Great Lakes fishing industry and host of other invasive species pushing out native populations. Unfortunately, a great many of these invasive creatures are succeeding so well because they have no natural predators, and they don’t taste that good to potential predators, humans included.
After recently speaking with a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, I learn Burmese pythons are one such inedible creature – particularly those invading the Florida Everglades. They are not inedible because of the taste or texture of the meat itself, but because samples tested by the National Park Service found unsafe levels of mercury in the snakes. Evidently, the South Florida burns its garbage, and natural weather patterns drop the pollution from the incineration into the Everglades. I’m sure the coal-fired power plants in the area are not helping either. The National Park is currently conducting tests on additional snakes to confirm the first results of mercury-tainted meat.
However, some invasive species do tempt the palate, and I believe the foodservice industry is in a great position to lead the charge in a new culinary trend. In an age of “Foodies,” how better to capitalize on the sustainability trend than serving something new, intriguing and not only environmentally friendly, but environmentally beneficial!
Some are already serving up invasive species. Restaurants in New York and Chicago have served invasive Lionfish from the Florida Keys, in fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has come up with an Eat Lionfish campaign to encourage restaurants to start serving the fish that is invading the Southeast and Gulf Coasts, and the Caribbean. In Asia they are finding various uses for the global warming loving jellyfish, Brits are dining on the invasive American grey squirrel, and an entrepreneurial fishery in Illinois is making gefilte fish from Asian Carp.
Mike Schafer of Schafer Fisheries in Thomson Illinois has bigger ideas than just serving up carp in restaurants. He thinks we can solve some of our world hunger and humanitarian problems like Haiti with the ugly fish. Schafer thinks processed Asian carp would make a great, portable protein source that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. The end product would be a cooked mash of fish packaged and sealed in pouches that very mobile, relatively light weight and high in calories. Right now Schafer Fisheries is processing about 12 million pounds of the carp each year, but with increased demand for the fish in Asian, a push from the state of Illinois, and the potential for a humanitarian protein source the production demand for Asian carp is likely to reach estimates of over 30 million pounds a year.
The market seems to be ready for these products. It just needs a few chefs to introduce the fine dining crowd to a new taste.
If you have served or ate Lionfish or any other invasive species, please share your experience.