7 Truly Foreign Foods You Need to Eat

Try eating invasive species instead of your run-of-the-mill supermarket meat.

August 14, 2012

By now, you’ve probably heard about the dangers of eating factory-farmed meat. Antibiotics, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals run rampant in typical supermarket fare. To avoid these perils of the food system—and to help create healthier ecosystems—one author suggests a rather unconventional remedy: Eat invasive species. “The main reason to look at invasive species as food is to leverage self-interest as a tool for the removal of these species,” says Jack Landers, author of the upcoming book Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species.

Removing invasive species—plants and animals that aren’t native to a particular area—could boost biodiversity along with environmental and economical health. The other positive side to not just removing, but also eating, invasive species is that it lessens the need for factory farming.


Photo: (cc) Ro Ng/Flickr


Wild Pigs

Stealthy and able to live in all different types of conditions, invasive wild boars native to Eurasia are proliferating and mating with escaped farm hogs in the wild, creating a diverse-genetic army that is decimating forests and farms throughout the U.S. These menacing hogs crash through forests, scarfing up acorns that could have one day become mighty oak trees and ripping out precious forest-floor flora, including endangered native plants that keep the ecosystem healthy and able to support life.

In some states, you can legally kill the beast while hunting. Landers says you cook it just like any other pork, bearing in mind that the fat content will be lower and you won't get as much bacon out of a wild pig compared to a farm pig.

Supermarket Fix: If you’re not going to take up hunting wild boars, ask your grocery store to carry pastured pork, or find a local farmer in your area and buy direct. While tough regulations make it hard to offer wild pork for sale, there are a few butcher shops that are sourcing the wild meat.

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Photo: (cc) Mike Baird/Flickr


Known as the fast-growing, tree-smothering "weed that ate the South," kudzu can actually be eaten itself. This highly invasive weed covers more than 7 million acres of the southern United States, giving you an unending supply with which to experiment in the kitchen. Southerners have found dozens of ways to eat kudzu, from making jams and jellies to pickling the weed’s flowers. Steam or boil the roots until they’re tender and add soy sauce or miso, as is done in Asian cooking, or brew a kudzu tea by chopping up a cup of leaves and boiling them for about 30 minutes to treat allergies, colds, fevers, and indigestion.

“The secret to making kudzu palatable is parboiling it very briefly to remove the fuzz from the leaves,” Landers says. “Substitute small kudzu leaves for basil to make kudzu pasta, or try replacing grape leaves with kudzu in otherwise-traditional Greek dolmas.”

Supermarket Fix: If foraging for wild edibles isn’t your thing, be sure to source organically grown greens and herbs at the store or farmers’ market to avoid harmful pesticides that can actually be taken up inside of the plant.

Photo: (cc) Clinton Steeds/Flickr


Lionfish are a menace when they take hold in areas they wouldn’t normally inhabit. Native to the South Pacific, this fish has invaded the Caribbean Sea and southern Atlantic Ocean, where it’s gobbling up shrimp, along with baby snapper and grouper, two species that are only now recovering from years of overfishing. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration even urges Americans to indulge in lionfish fare, an item that is starting to pop up on some restaurant menus. “The texture reminds me of Chilean sea bass. You don’t get as much meat out of a lionfish as you do from a Chilean sea bass, but on the other hand we’re running out of the sea bass and have way too many lionfish,” Landers says, adding that lionfish are expected to reach the east coast of Massachusetts within 20 years.

Supermarket Fix: If your local restaurants don’t carry lionfish, make more sustainable choices in the meantime, such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon or Arctic char.

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Photo: (cc) Tim Sheerman-Chase/Flickr

Snakehead Fish

Native to China, Russia, and Korea, northern snakeheads are infiltrating the upper Potomac River and freshwater canals of southern Florida. The creatures prey on insects, crustaceans, frogs, and even birds and mammals, something made possible by the snakehead's primitive lung, a body part that allows them to live on land for 4 days! Luckily, they are delicious, meaning we can wipe out invading populations by eating them. “Snakehead fish turned out to be one of the biggest surprises among all of the invasive fish that I have eaten,” Landers says, noting that they’re starting to pop up on some restaurant menus. “These things have a taste and texture that is just about identical to swordfish.”

Supermarket Fix: If you like the taste of swordfish but aren’t ready to seek out snakehead, look for more sustainable picks like mahi mahi or mackerel.

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Photo: (cc) S Christia/Flickr

Silver Carp

There’s an old fisherman’s myth that claims carp are inedible, but Landers says this simply is not true. Silver carp, native to Asia, are overtaking the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries. In Spring 2012, Congress introduced bills that would help block the Asian carp from infiltrating the Great Lakes, an invasion that scientists say would devastate the region’s $7 billion sport and commercial fishery.

Silver carp are delicious if you use Landers’ secrets to cooking them. First, butcher them right away and refrigerate the meat ASAP. “You can’t let them sit on the bottom of the boat all afternoon like a catfish or bass,” he says. Second, the bone structure is different from most other fish. Cut vertical chunks of meat from the filets and use the protruding bones like kebab skewers. “That way, you're using the awkward bones rather than fighting them.”

Supermarket Fix: While silver carp are not readily available to buy, Landers hopes that the launch of his book will make invasive species like them more commercially available. In the meantime, avoid threatened fish and seafood selections and instead look for things like farmed oysters, wild-caught Pacific sardines, and farmed rainbow trout.

Read More: 7 Food Swaps That Will Make You Skinny

Photo: (cc) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr


Americans spend millions of dollars a year battling dandelions, a weed native to Eurasia that we will never get rid of. Instead of using toxic pesticides, why not embrace the super nutritious weed and eat it? “Remember, they were brought to North America as a vegetable in the first place,” says Landers.

Dandelions are richer in beta carotene than carrots! To tap in to the green power, harvest tender young greens in a pesticide- and fertilizer-free zone before the plant has flowered and use it in a mesclun salad or smoothie.

Supermarket Fix: If you don’t want to forage for dandelion, you can often find organic dandelion greens in the grocery store, although they likely aren’t as fresh.

Read More: 8 Weeds You Can Eat

Photo: (cc) digital_image-fan/flickr


Known as a swamp beaver and native to South America, the invasive rodent was originally brought to the United States for its fur. When the fur market collapsed, ranchers released thousands of nutria into the wild, where they have caused irreversible damage to marshes and wetlands, important natural water-filtering ecosystems. Found in 22 states, “nutes” are most prolific along the Gulf coast but also have taken hold in the Pacific Northwest and near Virginia Beach. If you’re hunting Nutria, be sure to remove the dark meat and use it as a straight substitute for chicken in any recipe that doesn’t require the meat on the bone, suggests Landers. “Lost of things taste like chicken, but nutria are one of the few animals I have run into that also have a texture identical to chicken,” he adds.

Supermarket Fix: If you’d like to stick to regular old chicken, be sure to buy organic to avoid meat grown using antibiotics and other medications.

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Photo: (cc) Ro Ng/Flickr