In my life before marriage and kids, I was a swashbuckling machete-wielding Amazon Jungle guide. Really!†In addition to living at a Robinson Crusoe-like lodge, gliding through swamp forests in a dug-out canoe and bird-watching from a three-story high kapok tree tower, I also was introduced to entomophagy – the act, otherwise known as, eating insects.
My favorite bugs were the tiny ants that were naturally lemon or mint flavored. They were the rainforest equivalent of an after-dinner mint. The next tastiest bugs were actually the larva of palm beetles – they were fat bulbous creatures the size of a thumb that when fried and dusted with powdered sugar tasted like donuts. Really. That is if you could get past the ick factor.
I could handle the lemon and mint ants (they were so tiny) and the fat larva because with sugar they really did taste like donuts, but the ick factor was admittedly a barrier for me in getting too excited about any of the other high protein bugs offered as culinary treats. I think it was the crunchy exoskeletons, legs and antennae that really got me. Plus, if you overcook a scorpion they are very messy when they pop. I could not get over that either.
But, with the heavy environmental toll our preferred meat sources are exacting on the planet, not to mention the ethical issues of industrial meat and dairy production, bugs are starting to look a lot more agreeable in the 21st century. Below is a list of reasons why entomophagy will likely not only gain in popularity, it may eclipse more traditional higher-on-the-food chain animals as our primary sources of protein in a future nearer than you think.
9 GREAT REASONS TO BE AN ENTOMOPHAGIST
1. As far as animal protein sources go, bugs are the most sustainable sources of protein. Since they do not waste heat they can be up to four times more efficient than mammals in transforming feed into protein.
2. Insects create a lot less greenhouse gases than livestock per kilogram of protein. Mealworms, for example, produce 29% less carbon dioxide per kilogram of protein than chickens, 32% less than pigs and 81% less than cattle. Those are big savings in a carbon-challenged world.
3. Insects are easy to find and collect.
4. Ten pounds of feed for a cow produces one pound of cow. Ten pounds of feed to crickets results in nine pounds of crickets.
5. Agriculture guzzles over 90% of the fresh water consumed by humans worldwide. Most of this goes to the feed for our livestock. Beef thus requires 15.8 gallons of water per gram of protein while a chicken requires 5.8 gallons. Crickets only require 0.8.
6. Insect cultivation requires a lot less land and is thus remarkably space-efficient. Furthermore, many insects prefer dark, teeming environments thus making them simple to raise.
7. Insect cultivation is cheaper for all of the reasons listed above – insects need significantly less water, less land and less feed than livestock mammals.
8. Many would consider the farming of insects to be much less of an ethical issue than the farming of mammals or fish.
9. New flavors, textures and health benefits await those who are willing to add insects to their diets.
So for all of the aforementioned reasons, if you care about your environmental footprint you must at least consider incorporating insects into your diet and/or your petís diet. Dogs are classic omnivores and most certainly would not object to having the right insects mixed into their kibble. Cats might be kosher with it as well, depending on the bugs chosen. However, selling this idea to people (especially in the West), is admittedly a more challenging task.
Fortunately, a number of forward-looking companies are pioneering insect-ladened products that will make entomophagy more palatable. For example, the Costco equivalent in Holland, Silgro, already offers freeze-dried locusts, mealworms and other whole insects supplied by Bugs Original, also a Dutch company. This same company also makes a tasty chicken-bug nugget combo (80% chicken, 20% mealworms). I imagine some kids will even think this is super cool – and if you start them young, bug consumption will seem as normal as a hamburger.
Another pioneer in insect cuisine is Salt Lake City resident, Pat Crowly, who recently raised $16,000 on Kickstarter to launch his forward-thinking product, a cricket-based protein bar. Currently, the Chapul bar comes in three gourmet varieties – peanut butter and chocolate, coconut, ginger and lime and dark chocolate with cayenne and coffee. Sound good? I think so! In fact, Pat and his insect bars are about to be featured on ABCís Shark Tank.
Of course in Thailand, the bug-eating capitol of the world, creatively prepared insects are already offered in many fine restaurants as well as by numerous enthusiastic street vendors. Check-out the BBC video on the next page that takes you to Thailand for a bug-crunching tour.
Interested in experimenting with the growing trend of gourmet insect cuisine? Meet the Bug Chef, also known as David George Gordon. His cookbook features interesting dishes such as tempura tarantula and grasshopper shish kabob.
Any way you slice and dice the benefits of dining on insects, any objective observer would have to say why not? After researching and writing this article, I felt ready to move beyond mint ants and palm tree larva and ordered some of those tasty-sounding cricket protein bars.
Visit the next page to see three different video takes on entomophagy including how to make tempura tarantula for your next dinner party.
Watch this BBC video where western biases about insect consumption are explored.
The Bug Chef offers this step-by-step tutorial on how to make tempura tarantula.
The Bug Chef showcases his inventive cuisine on the television show, The View.