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(or: Does entomophagy bug you?)

A week ago I had dinner in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I picked up a newspaper to keep me company (I was dining solo), a weekly called The Phoenix, one of many freebies in stands along the streets surrounding the campus. An article featured on the cover had caught my eye: Eat me: Delicious insects will save us all.

At a Thai restaurant the chicken curry with mango looked pretty good, and when the server brought it out it tasted pretty good too. One of a pair of young Japanese women sitting at the next table turned my way to ask what my dish was called. She spoke English with a thick accent, and I'd heard her order plates of drunken noodles for both herself and her friend. The rest of their conversation had been in Japanese. I wondered whether drunken noodles was the only dish she recognized on the English-language menu, and whether she was planning to order whatever I was having next time around.

I opened The Phoenix to the article on eating bugs:

Insects are a more sustainable protein source than cows or pigs, they're more nutritious, and they're being taken seriously. The United Nations has thrown its weight behind insect consumption, and more and more people are recognizing that bugs could be a solution to a host of emerging problems, including world hunger and environmental woes.

It's Thanksgiving today, so I'm moved to share some of what I learned on this topic. Fascinating facts:


  • The world's total meat supply quadrupled between 1961 and 2007, during which time per capita consumption more than doubled, according to the New York Times in 2008.

  • "An estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation," according to that same NYT article.

  • "To produce one kilogram of meat, a cricket needs 1.7 kilogram of feed -- significantly less than a chicken (2.2), pig (3.6), sheep (6.3), and cow (7.7)." This according to Arnold van Huis, an entomologist based at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, in a recent opinion-piece in The Scientist, to which the article in The Phoenix called my attention.

  • "Additionally, the edible proportion after processing is much higher for insects -- it's 80 percent in crickets -- than for pork (70 percent), chicken (65 percent), beef (55 percent), and lamb (35 percent)." Ibid.

  • The UN is really into this insects-as-food thing. Check out the Edible forest insects page, complete with video, on the site of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Arnold van Huis, the entomologist quoted above, really gets around. The UN's FAO site links to his research group in Holland. The U.K.'s Guardian published an article in August titled Insects could be the key to meeting food needs of growing global population and van Huis seemed to be the expert behind the curtain in that article too.

But this isn't just some Dutch scientist's fetish. Follow the Guardian link, and check out the photo in that article of skewered scorpions waiting for hungry customers at a food stall in Beijing. I saw virtually the same scene when I visited Wangfujing market in that city about five years ago. This insect-eating business is for real. No, I didn't sample any myself ... in Beijing I stuck to the bin tang hu lu, skewers of candied hawthorn fruits dipped in a sugar syrup that hardens to a sweet, crackly carapace. Delicious.

The article in The Phoenix gives recipes for Roasted snack crickets à la carte, Mealworm Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a Mealworm Stir-Fry. The cricket recipe is very simple. There are only two ingredients: live crickets and salt. The Mealworm Stir-Fry was pictured, in color, in the print copy of the newspaper.

Honestly? My mango curry was easier on the eyes.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

This diary was adapted from today's post on the author's blog, One Finger Typing.

Originally posted to Steve Masover on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 08:37 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  yeah this business of eschewing insect food (7+ / 0-)

    is such a fetish. And they can be raised so cleanly.

    Meanwhile, so many still eat bottomfeeders like shrimp and lobster, which we harvest from the oceans, which we use as garbage dumps.

    Too strange.

    "Unlike every other nation in the world, the United States defines itself as a hypothesis and continues itself as an argument." - Lewis Lapham

    by Miep on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 08:47:42 AM PST

  •  Interesting (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotlizard, indres, Larsstephens, Miep

    Thanks for the interesting diary.

    Having lived for a spell in East Asia and Southeast Asia I had numerous opportunities to sample untraditional (in the Western sense) creepy crawlie fare. Most of it was all right, although I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for the red ant egg porridge.

    Probably further south than you.

    by happynz on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 08:48:54 AM PST

  •  Reminds me of (5+ / 0-)

    Here, have some grubs, ohhh, these are very tender baby worms cooked in holy corn oil. That is oil taken from the corns of holy men.

    Firesign Theater

    Afghanistan - Come for the lithium and stay for the opium.

    by BOHICA on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 09:00:49 AM PST

  •  I've eaten insects four times (10+ / 0-)

    Three out of four were actually really good, and reminded me of shellfish more than anything.

    There was the roundish locusts in a market outside of Shanghai.  Slightly spiced and fried.  Centipedes in Nepal, mixed with native vegetables and served with rice.  The pan-fried grubs in Mali - maybe the best tasting of them all.  I'd go for those again any time.

    But the powder-dusted grasshoppers in Mexico City, errrrm, didn't make the cut.  Hot, dry and bitter.

    No more Mr. Nice Guy . . .

    by thenekkidtruth on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 09:24:54 AM PST

  •  oh, and (8+ / 0-)

    I used to work with the American Tarantula Society, and one of the members traveled to South American and ate goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) with some indigenous people there.

    They would singe the abdomen to remove the horrible urticating hairs (one of the very worst species for that), and then after consuming the contents, use the fangs to pick their teeth.

    "Unlike every other nation in the world, the United States defines itself as a hypothesis and continues itself as an argument." - Lewis Lapham

    by Miep on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 09:30:32 AM PST

  •  worms in burgers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When I was a kid I remember the rumor that McDonald's would put worms in its burgers. If they did the burgers probably would be leaner and better for you. Depending, of course, on what one means by "worms." It's about as catch-all a term as "bugs."

  •  I've eaten and blogged about many insects (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    buddabelly, bythesea, Larsstephens

    when you realize lobsters and crab are closely related to insects you can understand that many of them taste very good.

    Rather than deep fry or cover with chocolate they can be lightly cooked or seasoned for the full flavor.

    "slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 11:37:36 AM PST

  •  No accounting for taste (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Louisiana 1976, Larsstephens

    I have always wondered who was the first person to figure out that an Artichoke could be eaten.

    Most everything organic on this planet has been eaten.

    I try not to judge anyone's food preferences.

    However, I have to control myself when food becomes a culture war item.

    When I am in a gathering of people, I have to excuse myself when someone starts in with the "Oh, I just, got back from ( x ), and the  ( y ) was so delicious. We should stop
    eating ( z ) and eat ( y ).  Y is usually something awful, and Z is usually the current topic of disgust such as meat, sugar, or whatever.

    I also wonder why more often than not, food item ( y ) comes from a place where the humidity never goes below 90%. With the exception of Lutfisk, or Ludafisk, or whatever.

    •  This is true. If insects ever get to market in (0+ / 0-)

      the US (or the west in general) and somehow become popular, eventually foods containing them will be highly processed and thus pumped full of salt, sugar and water as far as possible. Food type, even mode of manufacture, do not make things healthy per se. It's just that if a manufacturer is ethical in one regard, it's perhaps more likely to be so in another-- this is of course not guaranteed.

      Objections to meat and sugar go beyond simple disgust, though. Meat makes inefficient use of the energy available. Refined sugar is added to foods out of proportion to the levels found during our evolutionary history.

  •  Scorpions and centipedes are not insects (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotlizard, Larsstephens

    Scorpions are arachnids, more closely related to spiders, and centipedes are arthropods belonging to the subphylum Myriapoda. Insects are subphylum Hexapoda (6-legged), and scorpions, spiders, horseshoe crabs and mites make up subphylum Chelicerata. The other arthropod subphyla are the crustaceans (crab, lobster, shrimp) and the extinct trilobites.

    What is valued is practiced. What is not valued is not practiced. -- Plato

    by RobLewis on Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 09:53:00 PM PST

    •  When they start auctioning off taxonomic spectrum (0+ / 0-)

      … buying chunks of Arthropoda bandwidth might be a good bet?

      The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

      by lotlizard on Fri Nov 26, 2010 at 04:34:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  poetic license? (0+ / 0-)

      Actually, I knew that. Well, that scorpions aren't insects anyway, that they're arachnids. I probably saw insects on skewers too in Wangfujing market, but it's the scorpions I remember and the scorpions depicted in the Telegraph's photo. "Eating Arachnids" isn't so compelling a post/diary title, though, and I figured that DK isn't an academic journal so maybe I could skate by on poetic license. I guess not ...... ;-)

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