By Matt Miller, The Nature Conservancy
Warm spring days evoke a strong memory of my grandmother. She’s hunched over the yard, seemingly picking randomly at the grass. Her short stature and rapid movements give the appearance of a dervish. She grips at a plant, plucks and plops it into the bucket, then moves a short distance away to resume her harvest.
My grandmother collected dandelions, a spring bounty she served with a bacon dressing. The bitter greens were not unlike spinach or kale, bitter yet tasty. My grandfather used the flowers to make a potent wine.
This time of year, I so often encounter dandelions shriveled from hefty doses of herbicide. Recalling my grandmother, it seems a waste: here are delicious, nutritious greens that could be providing some free meals. Instead, they’ve become toxic reminders of the so-called “war on weeds“—the scorched earth approach to invasive control favored by both surburban lawn owners and conservationists.
Why aren’t we instead looking at some non-native, invasive species as a sustainable source for fresh, local food?
The idea is popular. Books like Jackson Landers‘ upcoming Eating Aliens encourage local foodies to eat such invasives as iguanas and nutrias. Marine conservationists have launched campaigns to encourage restaurants to carry lionfish, a species devastating coral reefs. Even governments have urged their citizens to eat non-native gray squirrels (in Britain) and camels (in Australia).
As history shows, people can certainly eat their way through populations of species. As such, eating invasives doesn’t only provide good food, it’s good conservation.
Or is it?