On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.
Over 25 years ago, the concept of “Invasivore”–a dietary ethic that involved eating only invasive species, or more often, only eating meat if it was from an invasive species–entered into popular culture. Unfortunately, the actual practicalities of being an invasivore made the practice, with the exception of people in highly invaded regions, functionally impossible.
This led to an interesting and welcome change in the overarching dietary ethic movement. By focusing on specific meals, rather the food ethics that defined someone’s identity, people could focus on what’s really important, choosing meals and finding food suppliers that provided the most net-good for a specific region or community. While it was nearly impossible to be a strict invasivore, it was relatively easy to source and host an invasivore barbecue or cook an invasivore meal. We began defining meals, rather than individuals, by the method of production and preparation. Read More
Fortunately, it turns out last week’s chapter was a fluke, and we come down the home stretch of Eating Aliens with some of the strongest sections since the beginning. Canadian Geese was particularly fascinating, as it’s clear this is the species Landers has the most experience talking about. Te chapter is rich with the details, backstory, and information that I was hoping to find throughout the book, with less cynicism about the role of local and national government than we’ve seen previous. If you haven’t caught up yet, I recommend just skipping Nutria and going straight to Canadian Geese.
Then we’re back in the water with numerous marine and freshwater invasives, many from the aquarium trade. Plecos and armored catfish, released by amateur aquarists, are booming in Florida’s warm, protected waters, while tilapia is a holdover from the aquaculture industry. Frankly, there wasn’t much new in these chapters, other than the species–at this point introduced fish are old news, and while the details of each animal are slightly different, the causes and consequences are often the same. Personally, I don’t think I’d eat a pleco, but it doesn’t sound particularly unpalatable. Even though the story is pretty much the same–Landers struggles to catch anything, hijinks ensues, they finally eat it–this was a fun part of the book.
I’m going to have to start with an apology. I intended to get to this chapter before #JacquesWeek kicked off and sucked up all of my time, but I just couldn’t. This chapter was… not fun and not particularly informative.
In the longest chapter of the book, Jackson’s fails to hunt Nutria for 90% of the story. This chapter drags on. It could have easily been 70% shorter without losing any of the actual information. I get that Jackson is a hunter and like to wax poetic about the process, but much of that process has already been covered at length. If this were a standalone story, and I get the feeling it was originally written as such, that extra detail would have been welcome, but here it just feels redundant.
I just don’t have much more to say. The anti-government stuff common in other chapters was subdued because local authorities were more interested in killing nutria than following the letter of the law and I would have loved to read more about the history of Nutria and the fur trade, but those details were sacrificed to make more room for complaints about his photographer and how many cottonmouths he found.
In the end, the chapter wasn’t great, but if it’s the worst of Eating Aliens, I’m not going to be too disappointed. Next week, catfish!
Jackson Landers does not like the USDA. Twice now, we’ve encountered government oversight in invasive game management, and twice we’ve seen nothing but hard criticism coming from the author. On one hand, I can see where he’s coming from. Government oversight can be frustrating. Bureaucracies are slow to act and often stifled by their own size and internal politics. But some of it, particularly as he tries to hunt pigs in coastal Virginia, seems to be due to his own poor planning–bringing the wrong firearm, for example–or failing to understand the totality of the management effort, focusing instead on what would work well for eradicating pigs from the island, without considering the overall consequences of that eradication process. Longitudinal studies are a good thing, especially when examining a major ecologic regime shift, invasive or not.
Landers, incidentally, also has an article up on Slate about killing pigs to save the environment. I do not disagree.
The first thing you notice after reading a couple of chapters of Eating Aliens is that this book is much more about hunting invasive species than about why they’re invasive in the first place. For me, I like that. I’ve spent a large chunk of my career exploring the issues surrounding species invasions, and it’s great to get what is essentially a field report from those working on the front lines. I love meeting the people who run these eradication campaigns, and the politics involved in effective invasive species management. This is my kind of invasive species book.
This first thing that captured my attention in the first two chapters was how radically different the approaches to black spiny-tailed iguanas and green iguanas were. Both are invasive. Both came in through the exotic pet trade. Black spiny-tailed iguanas are omnivores, they get into peoples trash, go after rodents, tear up gardens, and are generally a pest. They’re also only invasive in a relatively small area. People view them as pests and the initial response was a grassroots effort, only later supplanted by the USDA. In contrast, green iguanas are vegetarian, more widely distributed across Florida, and more personable. People don’t view them with the same level of ire and many appreciate their presence, as destructive to the habitat as it really is. It’s harder to hunt out invasive when people don’t view them as pests, and one of the big problems is that, as eradication campaigns become more effective, the invasive populations go down and people begin valuing the invasives due to their rarity. It’s a brutal feedback loop.
Summer is coming, and it’s time to curl up with a good, light, vaguely optimistic book about the world’s ecosystems long slide into total decimation. For the next few weeks, join along with the Southern Fried Science book club, while we tackle Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers. Eating Aliens takes a practical look at the emerging invasivore food ethic–the eating of only invasive and non-native species. We’ll join Landers as he travels the United States hunting and cooking invasive species.
By all accounts, this book is more of an adventure story than a deep look at the causes and consequences of species invasions, which suits me just fine for a good summer read. It also provides a great launch point for us to dig more deeply into the material.
On Wednesday, I’ll post my review of the last weeks readings. Depending on how many people want to participate, we’ll then meet via comment forum, Facebook group, or Google Hangout to talk about Eating Aliens and place it in a broader environmental context.
So grab yourself a copy of Eating Aliens* and read along. Next week we’ll cover the introduction and then talk about black spiny-tailed iguanas and green iguanas.
These links are Amazon affiliate links. By buying the books through them, you help offset some of the costs of running Southern Fried Science.