WEC Alumni in the World - Joe Roman
Joe Roman (WEC MS 1997), founder of the blog, “Eat the Invaders,” used genetics to determine what kinds of turtle meat were being sold at Louisiana markets for his masters research at UF. He found that what was being labeled as turtle meat was often alligator meat. “We were concerned that protected alligator snapping turtles were being caught and brought across state lines illegally,” says Joe. “We didn't find evidence of that, but we did discover that about one of every three samples we purchased were actually alligator meat. We called this fraudulent trade the mock turtle syndrome, when expensive wild products, such as turtle, caviar, even whale meat in Japan, was being falsely labeled for a profit.”
Joe went on to study invasive European green crabs as part of his PhD research at Harvard University. The crabs cover an area ranging from Provincetown, Mass., at the tip of Cape Cod all the way up to Nova Scotia. During this research, Joe found that people were collecting periwinkles (an invasive snail) in order to sell them in New York City for food. This gave him inspiration, and soon afterward he pitched the idea for an article about eating invasive species to Audubon Magazine.
Dr. Roman says it took a while for the idea to take off. It finally began to catch on in late 2011, when the website, eattheinvaders.org, went live concurrently with a significant culture shift. “People had become more open to the idea of foraging,” says Joe. “Eat the Invaders” combines the three elements of finding one’s own food, helping to decrease invasive populations, and cooking delicious recipes – such as blackened northern snakehead with pina colada salsa and strawberries.
These days, the “Eat the Invaders” blog isn’t the only thing occupying Joe Roman’s time. He is the author of the books, “Whale,” and the more recent “Listed: Dispatches from America’s Endangered Species Act.” He is a fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a research professor at the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at University of Vermont. Earlier this summer, Joe was a scientist in residence in Sitka, Alaska, where he worked on the recovery of protected whale species. He is set to speak at the Chefs Collaborative symposium on eating invasive species, which will take place in Boulder, Colorado this fall.
“The combined impact invasive species have on our native environment and economy is pretty shocking,” says current SNRE PhD student Carolyn Jane Anderson (advisors: Johnson and Hostetler). “About 42% of species listed as threatened or endangered are at risk primarily because of invasive species. One study found that managing for invasive species and mitigating the damage they cause costs natural resources managers, government agencies, and property owners about $137 billion annually. These species are often unintentionally released by travelers or by hitching a ride in cargo containers. As global travel and trade are increasing, so is the risk of invasive introductions. It is truly one of the most pressing conservation issues of our time.”
Joe says of his time at UF, “It was really important to my career. I learned a ton.” He says he is glad that the department “took a chance” on him, because his background was more related to art than wildlife ecology. Joe was advised by Dr. Brian Bower, but also credits John Eisenberg with being “very influential” on his work.
Check out mouth-watering recipes for sustainable dishes at: http://eattheinvaders.org/.