Here’s the scenario: the Chinese mitten crab is an opportunistic and invasive species in Europe and the US that outcompetes native species, damages fish salvage facilities, disrupts local food chains, and causes considerable environmental and economic damage. To the Chinese, mitten crab is a sought-after delicacy.
Humans are so good at eating species into extinction — why not apply our cunning, hunger, and sheer numbers to invasive species that damage biodiversity? There are almost 7 billion of us to act as predators to rabbits, lionfish, Asian carp, mitten crabs, and rusty crayfish (to say nothing of invasive plants, my favorite of which is Ipomoea aquatica, a mild leafy green that tastes amazing sauteed with a little garlic and salt). Introducing these species was our mistake. Why not clean it up and feed ourselves at the same time?
From an environmental standpoint, this is a brilliant idea. Even if we can’t completely eliminate an invasive species, we can actively control it, and maybe use that food to replace some of the most resource-intensive and pollutant forms of animal farming we currently use. Eating them is not the only way to deal with invasive species, but it might be one of the most resourceful. (We’ve discovered through trial and error that introducing other species to deal with an introduced-turned-invasive species has a tendency to backfire.)
As an environmentalist, I am completely OK with eating our way out of invasive species (if we can’t be wise enough to prevent spreading them in the first place). But as a vegetarian? I stopped eating animals because I hated the thought of suffering, blood, and death in my meal. Invasive or not, these species are no less sentient for being out of their element. What gets priority? Preventing individual suffering or preserving biodiversity?
It’s becoming more obvious that the goals of vegetarianism and environmentalism don’t always coincide. As the authors of The 100 Mile Diet discovered, it’s hard to get complete nutrition from a local diet without incorporating some animal products. Vegetarianism is mostly about not harming animals; environmentalism is about restoring or preserving balance. Call me cold-hearted, but my bottom line is not ‘Is it compassionate?’ but rather, ‘Is it sustainable?’ Do the bigger picture benefits of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems outweigh the suffering of the individual animals? I think so.
I don’t personally want to eat invasive animals, and I don’t think I need to when most of the 7 billion humans in the world are omnivores without conflicted consciences. As a species, we have more than enough manpower to practice, er, conservation through gastronomy. I would hope that this would also allow some of the species we’ve pushed to the brink with our appetites to recover.
What do you think about eating invasive species? If you’re vegetarian or vegan, would you do it (or encourage others to)?