Buggin’ Out

By Anna Sachse

Posted November 12, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

There are very few things that truly gross me out, but I’d have to say that watching people eat giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches on the now-defunct Fear Factor is at the top of the list. Eating bugs in general is pretty gross, in my book. But if you look at the worldwide interest in snacking on insects a.k.a. entomophagy, it appears that my book is in a rather lonely library.


People have eaten insects for thousands of years. I’m not talking about accidentally inhaling them while jogging, or about the urban legend that we all devour four spiders a year in our sleep; this bug-munching shit is intentional. Although it’s not a popular pastime in the U.S., it’s actually still quite common in other parts of the world. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 1,400 species of insects and worms are eaten in almost 90 countries, sometimes because they are thought to have special powers, but usually because they are quite simply a good source of “meat.” (Insects are typically high in protein, low in fat and contain a variety of minerals.)


Here are a few examples I found during an informal survey of the “literature” on the Internet:


Colombians eat salty, toasted ants, specifically the hormiga culona (big-butt queen ant). These ladies are thought to function as a six-legged Viagra while also boosting your immune system because they are rich in formic acid. Gourmands in Japan enjoy wasp-infused rice crackers and hornet larvae sautéed in sugar and soy sauce, while in Africa, Madagascar, Bali, Thailand and Indonesia, dragonflies are used in curry soup, boiled in coconut milk with ginger and garlic, steamed in a banana leaf or eaten raw. In Mexico, grasshoppers are fried before being eaten. Filipinos are also partial to grasshoppers, as well as crickets and locusts, while the people of Papua New Guinea prefer moths, dragonflies and beetles roasted over an open fire. 


And there are so many more. 


The thing is, beyond the fact that people actually think these bugs taste good, numerous scientists argue that consuming “cooties” is better for the environment. For starters, cultivating insects requires forest to be preserved rather than felled. Bugs also need very little water. According to a May 2008 article published in Discover, it takes 869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef, about enough for a large hamburger. By contrast, a quarter pound of crickets only needs a moist paper towel once a week. They take up less space and they need less maintenance, thus it follows that raising insects for human consumption is also cheaper. (Hello! The answer to all our recession woes!) In fact, the United Nations held a special conference on the subject in February 2008, and ended up advising people to eat crickets and caterpillars during droughts and other emergencies. 


Want to get in on the trend? Go high-end with www.edible.com. Here, under the “Insectivore” category, you can order Oven-baked BBQ English Worm Crisps that are supposed to taste like popcorn, or Antlix Lollipops—peppermint suckers that contain peppery Polyrachis Black Ants from China that supposedly contain energy-giving enzymes. 


Not a fan of peppermint? Giant Toasted Columbian Leafcutter Ants taste like nutty bacon and “make a great alternative to olives or nuts.” Giant Japanese Hornet Honey is supposed to increase strength and is good with alcohol. Thai Green Curry Crickets are lovely with an icy beer, while Oven-Baked Cambodian Tarantula can be eaten as-is or heated up. Get walnut-y Farm-Raised Chinese Scorpions covered in dark chocolate or embedded in sugar-free toffee, or snack on the fishy-tasting South African Mopani Worms.


These tasty treats give a whole new meaning to the phrase “buzz kill.”


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