Serious Reads: Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers
Invasive plants and animals are often responsible for destroying natural habitats and taking the place of native species. Such disruption can cause a loss of biodiversity and result in permanent environmental damage. Jackson Landers, hunter and author of popular blog The Locavore Hunter, decided to address the issue of invasive animals as best he knew how: by hunting them. In Eating Aliens: One Man's Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species, he details sixteen months spent traveling around the country and tracking down invasive species. Along the way, he meets plenty of characters and samples odd—though usually delicious—cuisine.
What I most admired about this book was Landers' balanced and curious tone. Though most of his hosts in various locales were themselves hunters of invasive animals, Landers still appreciates the unique beauty that even invasive species bring to an ecosystem. He is obviously in favor of hunting, but does so conscientiously, and speaks of it with a clear awareness that the reader may or may not hold the same opinions as him.
Most of the species that Landers discusses have unfamiliar names. Lionfish, black spiny-tailed iguanas, nutria, aoudad. What are these creatures? Lionfish are aggressive, venomous sea dwellers with a propensity to sting and occasionally kill nearby snorkelers. Nutria are dubbed "swamp rats" for their similarity in appearance to a giant rodent. Black spiny-tailed iguanas are, well, self-explanatory, and apparently taste like chicken.
And Landers would know—he cooked and ate every invasive animal he was able to kill. From wild pigs to green crabs to Chinese mystery snails, he sampled them all. His overarching philosophy is that the primary way humans can control invasive animals is to eat them out of existence. But first, he had to see how they tasted. Most of the creatures tasted something like their more common counterparts—pig like pig, lionfish like carp, iguana like, well, chicken. By simple grilling, these maligned animals became dinner.
Landers is a vivid and engaging author. His knowledge of hunting is extensive, but he's able to talk about the sport in an open, accessible, and non-prescriptive way. I found myself surprisingly drawn into his adventures and enthusiastically turning the pages. Even if invasive species themselves don't pique your interest, Eating Aliens is worth a read for its literary value alone.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.