People Eating Tasty Animals


I have blogged on the benefits of eating guinea pig before. But how about eating some sparrow? Or some bullfrog legs? Or squirrel pie?

In the US some restaurants are putting invasive pest species on the menu and some of the dishes sound great.

Just as we enjoy deer and pig shouldn’t we also enjoy eating our way through other species, or even perhaps some native species in order to preserve them. You don’t hear about chickens being on the edge of extinction do you?

Most invasives won’t be eradicted through human consumption alone, but Huffman and other environmentalists are okay with that. “What’s important,” she says, “is that we re-popularize and infuse some joy into the conversation over protection of resources.”

But that begs the question: Do invasives taste good enough to earn a permanent spot on home and restaurant menus?

More and more people are trying hard to prove they do. The Corvallis, Oregon-based Institute for Applied Ecology’s (IAE) Eradication by Mastication program includes an annual invasive species cook-off and a published cookbook calledThe Joy of Cooking Invasives: A Culinary Guide to Biocontrol (kudzu quiche! nutria eggrolls!). The program will hold a workshop this summer on how to dig, process, and cook up the highly invasive purple varnish clam. Tom Kaye, executive director of IAE, made one of three prize-winning entries at last year’s cook-off: battered, deep-fried Cajun bullfrog legs. Second place went to popcorn English house sparrow drumsticks. Despite their poor labor-to-meat ratio, Kaye says, “they were tasty.” Third prize went to nutria prepared three ways, including pulled-pork style and made into sausages. 

To celebrate Earth Day this year, the Texas Nature Conservancy held a “Malicious but Delicious,” dinner, where Austin chefs Ned and Jodi Elliott classed up a bunch of invasives for a four-course menu of popovers with asalpicon of tiger prawns, bastard cabbage orecchiette, porchetta of feral hog, and lime and Himalayan blackberry tart. Huffman says there are now 1.5 million feral hogs rototilling the arid Texas soil and eating everything in sight. Producing at least three litters a year for a total of 12 to 13 hoglets, she says, “they’re prolific, they’re smart, and hard to eradicate because they catch on to our tricks.” Diners’ response was enthusiastic, reports Elliott, who discovered that bastard cabbage, a federally designated “noxious weed” commonly seen along roadsides in Texas, has a delicious “earthy, almost parsley-like flavor.”

Conservation biologist Joe Roman runs a website called Eat the Invaders, stocked with informative descriptions of a wide range of invasive species and recipes for preparing them. Roman’s personal favorites are green crabs in their soft shell stage sautéed and served with French bread, periwinkle fritters and garlic mustard, which he says “makes an excellent pesto.” Lionfish sushi, he adds, is “first-rate.”

Roman notes that in England, cooks have targeted the highly invasive gray squirrel, which has become such a popular protein that “they’re having a hard time keeping them on the menu.” The Daily Mail reports that the invading grays have a sparked a revival in the Victorian delicacy squirrel pie.

Squirrel pie sounds delicious.


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