Biodiversity Conservation Food Plants

Go on – eat an alien

cuisine and invasive species - where to start?

Kirsha Kaechele, an American artist and curator, has bought us an interesting concept in ‘Eat the problem‘.

So what is it?

Well it’s that we should do something with our problems instead of just complaining about them. In this case, the problem is invasive (otherwise known as alien) species, and the solution is – eating them.

The concept has spawned a book – apparently fully of delicious recipes involving alien species – boar, camel, cane toad anyone?

The idea has also been turned into an exhibition hosted at MONA in Tasmania (running until September 2019), involving the worlds largest glockenspiel, tuned to 432 Hz – the frequency of the Earth. You’ve got to love artists and their instillations.

The glockenspiel is the site of performances by artist Elena Stonaker and a series of spiritual health treatments. It is also the venue for a series of Sunday lunches and feasts, comprising ‘impossibly sumptuous courses of invasive species’, prepared by MONA’s Head Chef Vince Trim, so that customers can ‘eat the problem’ directly.

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A review of the the installation by Svenja J. Kratz labelled the premise as ‘a good starting point for critical discussion’ but ultimately is ‘little more than an exquisitely designed elitist spectacle’.

So what is that critical discussion – that we should be eating more invasive species in an attempt to control them and reduce the environmental destruction they bring?

Movements that encourage people to forage and eat invasive species have emerged […] and is a concept now growing in Australia.

This destruction shouldn’t be underestimated, and runs into billions of dollars worth in reduced agricultural production and untold impact to native habitats and species, including driving the extinction of several of our native flora and fauna.

If we reflect on the introduction of alien species to Australia, many have been brought here accidentally, but many more, and particularly some of our worst ones, have been introduced deliberately, many for food, or at least for hunting.

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Within 10 years of the introduction of rabbits to Australia, two million rabbits were being shot or trapped annually without having any noticeable effect on their population. Image from rabbitfreeaustralia.com

 

Famously, 24 wild rabbits were released by Thomas Austin for hunting purposes in October 1859, on his propery, Barwon Park in Victoria. Originally from England and an avid hunter, upon arriving in Australia Austin had rabbits, hares, partridges and some sparrows sent over so he could continue his hunting hobby in Australia by creating local populations. Within 10 years of their introduction, two million rabbits were being shot or trapped annually without having any noticeable effect on their population. It was the fastest spread ever recorded of any mammal anywhere in the world.

Of the 56 invasive vertebrate species in Australia many like the rabbit were introduced for food or hunting purposes, including the goat, pig, water buffalo, deer and red fox (although not so tasty). Many birds and fish were also introduced for sport and food including the common starling, the spotted dove, rock pigeon (common pigeon), carp, brown trout, rainbow trout, redfin perch, mosquitofish (Gambusia spp), weather loach, and spotted tilapia. Your options for plant-based alien fare is a little more limited and many are poisonous (bridle creeper, broom, fireweed, silver nightshade – see the Weeds of National Significance list for more) so beware.

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feral goats in Australia, photo credit Phil Johns, image from www.dpi.nsw.gov.au

Movements that encourage people to forage and eat invasive species have emerged in the UK and USA and these types of activities have been popular for some time, and is a concept now growing in Australia.

So why not give it a go – wild harvest or forage for invasive species – many of which were introduced exactly for that reason? Although if you’re going to embark on this route you’ll need to know your apples from your oranges and be able to identify palatable from unpalatable/poisonous fair, and you’re probably going to have to invest in some fishing, trapping or hunting equipment and permits, and a little expertise.

But once suitably equipped, you are likely to find that there is almost more availability of edible invasive species than edible native species here in Australia. In addition, you will be able to prepare some quite delicious meals with these unwelcome visitors – and besides Kaechele’s book there are a range of cook books on the topic – try some of Barbara Santich’s volumes, including Bold Pallets.

But don’t get too much of a taste for these exotic creatures; if demand develops for alien species they could end up being farmed, which could only make the problem worse.

 

Feature image: a mob of feral camels moving across arid land in the Australian Outback.  Photo by Robert Sleep, from https://www.pewtrusts.org

Prof Andy Lowe is a British-Australian scientist and expert on plants and trees, particularly the monitoring, management and utilisation of genetic, biological and ecosystem resources. He has discovered new species, lost forests, championed to eliminate illegally logged timber in global supply chains, served the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime and has been responsible for securing multi-million dollar research funding. He is an experienced and respected executive leader, as well as mid-career mentor. Andy is the inaugural Director of Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide serving as the external face for all significant food industry and government sectors across South Australia, and the world.

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