Eating the Enemy: Making a Meal of Invasive Species

Declawed, skinned, and tossed with lime and cilantro, black spiny-tailed iguanas make yummy taco filler reminiscent of—surprise!—chicken, only with the texture of crab. It’s available on Gasparilla Island, Florida, where the invasive species runs amok. The reptiles, which hail from Central and South America, were probably exotic pets set loose outside, where they dine on various endemic plants and animals, including the federally threatened Florida scrub jay. “Removing invasive species is about protecting native and endangered species,” says Jackson Landers, who shot and tasted the iguanas for his upcoming book, Eating Aliens.

Landers hopes to raise awareness about some of the most problematic invasives, and to promote an appetizing solution: Eat ’em to beat ’em. “You can’t get any more local than your own backyard,” says the former vegetarian and self-taught hunter. Native nuisances such as white-tailed deer are also fair game, he adds. “We eat venison about eight months of the year.”

Chefs are surfacing as allies in the fight against invaders. Louisiana’s Philippe Parola pushed nutria noshing years ago. Now he’s after Asian carp, having developed a method to clean the bony fish. “[It’s] one of the best-tasting fish I have encountered in years,” says Parola. He’s industrializing his process to sell fillets on the mass market. (Read more about Asian carp here.)

If shooting a future meal seems wrong, it might help to remember that “the progenitors of the conservation ethic were themselves hunters,” says Landers. If you’re simply squeamish, he has a thought: There’s a magical thing that happens once you sprinkle some pepper on wild game—“suddenly it’s food.”

This article originally appeared in our March-April special food issue. For more stories on goodies fit to savor, click here.

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