For many of us, it’s the stuff of childhood dares and fraternity hazing. In many cultures around the world, however, they’re considered fine delicacies or just regular daily fare. We’re talking insects or the more vaguely inclusive “bugs”: grubs, worms, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, scorpions, beetles, termites, worms, ants, and other varieties in the vastly underappreciated gastronomic world of insects. “What could be more primal than eating insects?” you might ask. We would agree. Thanks to reader Tim for the suggestion.
Sure, we know there’s the strong sense of culturally-induced heebie-jeebies. The crunch, the ooze, the unimagined texture of fangs, pinchers, antennae, legs, and wings…. Some of us, frankly, would rather leave it unimagined, thank you very much. (Nonetheless, rest assured that most of the extraneous body parts – and definitely those pinchers and fangs – are routinely removed.)
Still reading? We thought we might lose a couple there. The truth is, when you bring the topic out into the light of day (and out of the Fear Factor gross-out fanfare), eating bugs begins to look pretty rational, surprisingly practical, even fairly convincing. For our part, we’d never turn down a good primal meal
Good primitive foraging it is – Grok at his most resourceful. However, we say, don’t write off insect eating as “merely” primordial scavenging. It’s been part of many a “Golden” age as well. Ancient thriving cultures in Europe, Asia and Africa partook, and in some parts of the world today insects are a cultivated, major livestock economy. (We hear Thailand offers the pinnacle of insect delicacies.) But the idea seems to be catching on even here.
And for good reason. It seems these critters boast a hefty dose of protein. Insect, pound for pound (or gram for gram), offer a truly respectable, plentiful (and cheap) protein source. Check out these nutritional assessments of edible creepy-crawlies. Nonetheless, we wouldn’t recommend just eating any bug off the street. It’s important to avoid insects that might have been exposed to pesticides and other pollutants (e.g. herbicides). While bugs are a big time crop in certain regions of the world, American insect connoisseurs find good supplies more limited, since insects aren’t packaged and inspected for human consumption in this country. Pet store supplies or raising your own (a whole new take on “ant farm”) are good options. Crickets, we understand, are a common beginner’s crop. Additionally, you can try certain ethnic markets for packaged options or indulge in some true insect culinary masterpieces in one of the insect-serving restaurants opening up in a number of West and East Coast cities.
Prefer to forage in the wild? A few tips to the bold and brave out there…. Unless you truly know what you’re doing, it’s best to avoid the exotic: the hairy, the colorful. Stick with the known quantities like grasshoppers and grubs. Some of these little (or larger) guys pack a poisonous punch. Remove any fangs, pinchers, wings and legs. (It will go down more easily.) And it’s best to cook anything you want to eat. (We recommend a good campfire roasting. Talk about primal heaven!) For some insects, cooking is essential, since heating breaks down any natural toxins. Still squeamish? You can always crush them and add them to dishes in a less recognizable form. Protein without the queasiness.
Need more convincing? A few months ago The New York Times highlighted a dedicated (American) advocate of insect eating, David Gracer, and the environmental and cultural arguments that fuel the growing appreciation for insect consumption in the U.S. In the midst of enjoying a decadent caramelized grasshopper, Grace offered, “Insects can feed the world. Cows and pigs are the S.U.V.’s; bugs are the bicycles.” We’d never quite thought of it that way. A sustainable agricultural model. Hmmm.
Yet, perhaps the most intriguing and provocative idea was this little gem, in fact subject of a workshop sponsored this year by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization: “Why douse fields with pesticides if the bugs we kill are more nutritious than the crops they eat?”
Now there’s food for thought. We think they’re on to something.
Your reactions? Arguments, anecdotes, jokes, reviews, and recipes? We know the subject has us “buzzing.” (Couldn’t resist.)