Invasives on the plate

snail-fettuccine

Photo credit: Ashley Baldridge (invasivore.org)

Mystery-snail Fettuccine anyone? Served with fruit, corn on the cob, garlic bread, slaw, and boiled rusty crayfish. Sounds appetizing, looks colourful and probably tastes delicious. It’s one of those recipes from invasive snail in North America. There are dozens of others on invasivore.org – welcome to a brave new world of invasive species cuisine!

Going by findings of recent research on growth in crop yields by 2050, invasive species might well have to be on the menu. This research, reported in the Guardian newspaper, shows that agriculture productivity is not rising fast enough to meet the needs of a rapidly growing world population. This was based on a study of yields of four key staple crops – maize, rice, wheat and soybeans – which supply a large proportion of the world’s diet. Some estimates suggest that 80% of global calorie intake comes from 12 plant species, eight of which are
grasses and four tubers. Imagine a scenario where a pathogen infects some of these crops – global food supply will be in deep trouble. Remember ash dieback in Europe which started in the winter of 2012? As of 17 June 2013, in the United Kingdom alone, there are 524 reported cases of ash dieback. Luckily we don’t eat ash trees! What if this was wheat or rice? Can’t even begin to imagine the catastrophe that would have caused.

The truth is that the global food system is highly ‘centralized’.  We depend on too few crops to feed ourselves. Should we seriously look beyond our 12 main crops? Yes. Wild edible plants – the weeds we often want to get rid of – might in fact have nutritional value that we haven’t recognized.  There are thousands, some of them already tried and tested as edible. Can we ‘discover’ food value in others? We might have to if we are to make our food system more resilient. The invasivores are on to something – they are experimenting with a radically different way of growing or gathering food. Such radical food movements are not new.  There are also locavores, who buy and eat only local food grown within a certain radius from where they live. And there are freegans, who are deeply unhappy about supermarket waste and go to great lengths to collect discarded food and cook dinners out of it. At the heart of these radical food movements is the dissatisfaction with the global food system and a strong statement that something needs to change.

Could ‘invasivory’ turn into a radical movement? Possibly. We might be initially suspicious of trying out food outside of our comfort zone, but we might learn to put up with it, even enjoy it. Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, has a special invasive species menu. They are after cuisine that “returns to the roots of sushi, meaning simply to use what we have available where we live.” Crayfish Bob in London, United Kingdom, offers a variety of invasive crayfish dishes, providing “quality food for a better environment”. There are others who are making adventurous food out of invasives and serving all sorts of things on the plate: lionfish, python and even alligator! But Chef Philippe Parola, a Californian, has the best advice of all: “Can’t beat’em? Eat ’em”!

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