Tastes like chicken: Landers takes bite out of invasive species
Of course Jackson Landers recently ate python at the big hunt in the Everglades, and naturally, the machete slaying involved a biker named Lucky.
"Outdoor Life wanted photographs of a python dissected and photographs of the stomach," Landers recounts. "You have to take apart an eight-foot snake. It's not like gutting a deer.
"And after all that," he continues, "the bastard died hungry."
That sort of story is pretty typical for hunter/author/adventurer Landers, 34, who's founded the invasivore movement with his latest book, Eating Aliens: One Man's Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species.
"My rock bottom value is the preventing of extinction," he says, listing loss of habitat, global warming, and invasive species as the primary contributors. Of the latter, he noticed nobody was doing anything about that.
"I'm a hunter," says Landers at a reading in January. "What I'm good at is hunting, killing animals, and eating them."
And that's what he did for 16 months in the United States and the Caribbean–hunting, killing, and sauteeing iguana, armadillo, nutria (a ratlike invader infesting the Gulf Coast) and many others.
Growing up in a vegetarian, no-toy-guns-allowed household, Lander's zeal for the hunt is perhaps a path his parents– his mother is Hook essayist Janis Jaquith– didn't foresee.
Landers had enjoyed shooting as a Scout, and at age 18, he bought his first .22. His first kill? A beaver that was damming up the culvert in his parents' pond. "While I did successfully hunt that beaver, it died in the pond and sank," says Landers. "I didn't get to eat it."
With his first deer, there was the conscious decision to see it through to the table. "I felt really weird eating meat," he says. "I thought if I couldn't, I probably would end up a vegetarian."
He didn't have anyone to show him how, so he read everything he could get his hands on about dressing a deer. "The butchering was such an overwhelmingly positive experience," he says. "I didn't like gutting, but I was so thrilled killing a deer I went back and did it again."
That led to his first book, The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food, published in 2011.
"I wanted to be able to make a living as a writer, and I didn't want to write another hunting book," says Landers. "With Eating Aliens, I could pivot to outdoor adventure."
"Jackson has always been interested in the natural world with no squeamishness," says his twin brother, Waldo Jaquith. "He's always been the kid who'd eat a worm on a dare. I'm not sure that's changed."
Landers stays on the move. After the Everglades, he spoke at Yale. CBS Morning News wants him to hunt feral pigs in Alabama, he says. A regular contributor to Slate, he's investigating whether wild alligators have migrated north to Virginia.
The biggest ecological threat is silver carp, says Landers. It sits at the bottom of the food chain, eating plankton every time it breathes. "Snakeheads are more dramatic, but silver carp are a bigger threat," he says.
After eating black spiny-tailed iguana, giant Canadian goose and Chinese mystery snails, is there anything alien-eater Landers would not recommend?
"Armadillo was weird," he says. "It's the only thing I'd prefer not to eat again."
Jackson discusses "Locavore: Hunting and Eating Locally" with Pam Dawling at 6pm Thursday, March 21, at the Central Library.