Illinois wants to end hunger with Asian Carp


Colorful carp streamers are displayed at a park in Sagamihara, suburban Tokyo.



Can the people of Illinois learn to love eating Asian carp?

Illinois officials are hoping to control the infestation of Asian carp, an invasive species that has spread across rivers in the Mississippi River basin and now threatens the Great Lakes, while also helping to feed the poor, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports.

The idea is based on a state program that lets hunters donate venison to food pantries.

There is an increasing demand for food stamps in Illinois, and an average of 1.8 million people rely on the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program each month, the Associated Press reports.

But getting people to eat this much-maligned fish will be a tough task.

While carp is a popular fish in China, and is low in mercury and high in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, most Americans find the idea of eating this bony bottom-feeder repellent, the AP says. 

Bighead carp, which can reach up to 100 pounds, and silver carp, famous for leaping out of the water when startled by boats, sometimes smacking people in the head, are common through waterways in more than a dozen states. There are fears the invasive fish could reach the Great Lakes, causing the decline of native species.

The AP writes that the idea of controlling the Asian carp population by getting people to eat the fish "has major obstacles, mainly overcoming people's nose-crinkling response to eating a fish that grows to 100 pounds and is able to sail out of the water — a trait spotlighted in YouTube videos."

To try and entice Illinois residents to eat Asian carp, a chef at a top Chicago restaurant has created dishes including "Carp-accio" and carp Bolognese sauce. 

"Make a seafood Bolognese sauce that everyone will love. Then surprise them, that they actually just ate Asian carp," Chef Phillip Foss told the AP.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has also enlisted Louisiana chef Philippe Parola to prepare carp dishes at a media event, "to demonstrate just how good these fish can be to eat," the Journal Sentinel says.