Science filmmaker Emily Driscoll on eating invasive species

Science filmmaker Emily Driscoll joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how eating invasive species may help the environment.


Joining me now is science filmmaker Emily Driscoll.

I watched that video, and I got the creepy-crawlies just thinking about those people eating all those insects and fish and... Is this -- you know, this bigger picture, this idea that we could actually help humanity and ecosystems overall by eating some of these species that are just having their way with the rest of us?

Yes, eating invasive species can help the environment in multiple ways.

So, this was the Explorers Club annual dinner, and the Explorers Club, it's a nonprofit that promotes scientific research by air, sea, land, and space.

So, once a year, these explorers get together, and they kind of share stories of their research over the past year, and this was the 112th Explorers Club annual dinner, and we wanted to focus on ocean conservation and restoration.

And I was actually a co-chair this year, along with Gaelin Rosenwaks and Nancy Rosenthal.

So we got to be involved with all the planning.

And Gene Rurka is the exotics food chef, and he's been doing this for 25 years.

He's extending this tradition of when explorers would come back and share foods and artifacts and stories from when they were gone on expedition, and a hundred years ago, those expeditions would last for years at a time.

This is how it started, as a way to share food and experiences from different research trips.

It's pretty exciting to see these scientists who some are probably more comfortable in a cave or in the field somewhere than an evening gown, but they're bringing that little bit of exploration in their food.

So you see these people in evening gowns eating cockroaches and other invasive species, and we really wanted to focus on marine invasive species for this dinner.

Right now, we're focusing on the same proteins over and over again, so if we can take pressure off of some of the proteins that we're eating now and also remove species from the environment that are threats to other species and native species, we can not only take pressure off of those protein sources that we're overfishing but protect native species and coastal reefs.

I think it was amazing, though, when you see those maps and they splay out, how the lionfish, I guess, escaped from tanks, and then here it is, just going right through an entire chunk of ocean.

And you can kind of see it -- up to Mississippi, there's a huge chunk, and then it starts to go all over the rest of the country.


It's surprising just in what a short amount of time an invasive species can take hold.

And not all of them do, but when exotic species come into a new territory and explode and take over, as they say in the film, then they become invasive species.

And the lionfish has only been there for about 20 years, yet it's decimating the whole Atlantic coast and Caribbean and probably now down into South America, too.

And lionfish can eat two or three times their weight in food, and a lot of fish, because they're so new, they don't recognize that lionfish are threats, so they don't know to run away.

Like you can see in the film, a juvenile fish is just kind of hovering there and not even realizing that there's a predator behind it.

There's also this interesting notion that eating a cricket might seem strange to us, but it's actually as much cultural as it is anything else, right?

That there's not -- Some cultures don't necessarily frown upon it, or if that's what's available, that's actually a source of protein that might keep them alive.

And then we think of, as you mentioned, we have a dependence on livestock and protein that's pretty resource-intensive.

I mean, compare what it takes to grow a pound of beef versus a pound of crickets.


And Gene Rurka, the exotic chef, would say when he was going on his expeditions, he would see people eat a tarantula for lunch because that was available to them, and that's a terrific source of protein.

So it might seem strange to us, but other places, insects are pretty common.

And here, even in New York City, you can find insects now at restaurants.

So it's becoming more known.

But in terms of relying on livestock, I mean, the amount of water that goes into a pound of beef -- 2,000 gallons of water to raise a pound of beef.

1 gallon of water to raise a pound of crickets.

So just right there.

And plus, the land use that's involved and the resources, pollution, and not to mention time that it takes to raise these insects.

Is there going to be, you think, a measurable effect if, for example, lionfish becomes the hot new dish?

Considering the rate at which they repopulate and grow and spread, could we actually make a dent in the lionfish population by encouraging people to eat it?

Yes, absolutely.

And I think also the point is just to broaden your view of what is food so we're not just relying on one type of protein.

So right now it's lionfish and Asian carp.

What are other invasive species?

But there are challenges with lionfish because they do have the poisonous spines, and divers have to go in and spear them, so they're not that easy to get.

But right now, they're just -- they're rampant.

But actually, every Whole Foods in Florida is now going to carry lionfish, so it's starting to get easier to find them.

All right.

Emily Driscoll, thanks so much.

Thank you.