Is pestatarian the next food craze?

Uni in its shell at Saint Peter: eating long-spined sea urchin is both a luxury and a necessity to save Tasmania's reefs.
Uni in its shell at Saint Peter: eating long-spined sea urchin is both a luxury and a necessity to save Tasmania's reefs.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Forget being a fish-only pescatarian or even vegan. Becoming pestatarian and eating the invasive species decimating Australia's native habitats could reduce the footprint of problem species.

That's the hope of American artist and author Kirsha Kaechele, whose book Eat the Problem has been the basis of an exhibition and feast series at Hobart's boundary-pushing MONA since March. The feasts, cooked using invasive species, reframe pests as a food source. The last feast is July 28, after which a national dinner series will hit the mainland, starting with a dinner at Melbourne fine diner Vue de Monde on August 6.

MONA's feasts featured performances and dishes designed to shock, including sweet-and-sour cane toad and a spoonful of wild cat consomme. Vue de Monde's executive chef Hugh Allen will serve a tamer menu of wild rabbit cooked in camel hump fat, "feral" pigeon, and a tart using the roe of long-spined sea urchin.

Allen says while diners might initially feel shocked at the idea of eating camel, it's "an incredible product with a high smoking point, giving it unique cooking qualities". The long-spined urchin roe, a creamy product that has a more oceanic hit than its smaller, sweeter (and more expensive) cousins, only needs a quick brining to lose those challenging top notes.

Given the 2018 report from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies estimated that 15 per cent of Tasmania's East Coast reef habitat had been bulldozed by urchins migrating down from NSW on warmer currents, we can't eat enough of the luxurious delicacy. Yet most of the wild-harvested bounty is being sent overseas.

Up to 80 per cent of the long-spined urchin roe harvested in Tasmania goes to markets in Asia. Likewise, Ken Lang, who operates Yarra Valley Game Meats, says most of our wild boar, of which there are an estimated 50-60 million rooting up vegetation in Queensland, is exported to Germany and other less squeamish European countries. Camel meat has become hard to come by locally as it in high demand in the Middle East.

But the tide might be turning. An Australian distributor of locally harvested urchin, Pacific Sea Urchin Pty Ltd. in Glen Waverley, markets the precious lobes (removed from their spiny, death star shells) direct to the public and also serves the product in-house at their "experience cafe", Uni Boom Boom.

Cafe di Stasio in St Kilda has had a standing order for wild boar, which is used for its signature ragu over polenta, for years. New fine diner Navi, in Footscray, has recently begun serving a dish featuring wild harvested possum with smoked macadamia and a native fruit ragu.

It might be a while before we switch out cow for cat, but the concept is compelling for environmental meat-abstainers longing for a steak.

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Tickets to Vue de Monde's August 6 dinner are $250 a head, or $495 a head including a signed copy of the Eat the Problem book. vueshop.com.au. For more on the national dinner series mona.net.au. 

Five animals you should be eating

Venison, a dark almost fruity meat that pairs well with spices and berries, is both farmed and shot in the wild, processed mainly in South Australia. According to Yarra Valley Game Meat owner Ken Lang, Victoria needs more processing plants as there is an estimated 1.2-2 million non-native sambar deer destroying alpine country.

Long-spined sea urchin (centrostephanus rodgersii) have migrated south to Tasmania's colder waters on changing currents. The uni, or roe, has a luxurious creamy quality that tastes of the ocean. Try it piled over rice at Uni Boom Boom in Glen Waverley. pacificseaurchin.com.au.

Possums: not only cute but incredible sweet. A protected species in Australian, commercial possum meat comes from animals that have been humanely and professionally dispatched and processed. Buy through Yarra Valley Game Meats or try at Navi restaurant at 83b Gamon Street in Yarraville.

Wild boars search for food by rooting up the ground with their snouts, damaging feeding grounds of native marsupials. The flavour is to farmed pork as mutton is to lamb, but braising and careful spicing complements those stronger characteristics. Try it at Cafe Di Stasio at 31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda.

Kangaroo populations have exploded in parts of Australia, specifically Tasmania. Special licenses that require proof a hunter can made a clean, humane kill are required to cull the native species. Available at most good game butchers.