Billions, yes billions, of people eat bugs–from crickets to locusts, worms to grubs. The Greeks and Romans harvested beetle larvae and cicadas; native Americans hunted crickets; termites are eaten in Ghana; grubs are a food source in New Guinea. Most of the world’s cultures consume insects in some form or another. But would you? Before you storm away from the computer in repugnance, be aware that bugs may be the new eco-protein. With a low environmental impact, insects are a highly sustainable source of protein that is low in both fat and cholesterol. They require little space to breed, unlike cattle, and breed rapidly, unlike most declining ocean life. If western cultures could begin desensitizing themselves to the idea of consuming crickets and the like, we could effectively stop over-harvesting other less-sustainable protein sources and poisoning the cultivated land. If we ate insects rather than sprayed horrendous pesticides to kill them, not only would we have a good protein source, but also a healthier harvest.
Is this too much to fathom? Well, just 30 years ago, raw fish/Japanese sushi seemed strange and disgusting to Europeans and Americans alike. Now, you can get raw fish at sushi bars in nearly all sizable western cities. Inspired by sushi’s transformation from slosh to posh, a small company called Ento has begun applying the same concepts to insects. Having met in graduate school in the U.K., these four young visionaries are working to introduce organic insects into the western diet by creating insect foods that are more aesthetically pleasing. No antennae sticking out, no exoskeleton crisps floating around. By mashing the insects into other ingredients, breading, adding sauces, and arranging square, sushi-like platings, an Ento plate looks more like a fun, tofu-like snack than your daily serving of grubs. (Fun fact: the name “ento” is actually derived from the words entomology, the study of insects, and bento box, a traditional Japanese take-out container.) You can see their plates here.
In the spirit of open-mindedness and experimentation, I ate my first handful of grasshoppers about 2 weeks ago. Although hesitant at first, seeing the thorax and little legs in my hand, it was pretty darn good! Drizzled in chili and lime, it was delicious, spicy, and, believe it or not, reminiscent of popcorn. If their appearance were disguised, the flavor of insects would be, on the whole, pleasant and inoffensive. According to the innovators at Ento, many insects taste surprisingly nutty, sweet, or meaty, depending on their main food source. What Ento is doing is essentially the same thing that fast food restaurants do with nuggets; it’s all about hiding what is really inside. But, in the case of Ento, this is a positive and healthy thing. Heck, I’d take a breaded insect nugget before a mysterious McDonald’s “chicken” nugget any day. Two billion people around the world regularly enjoy insects. Who’s to say they are wrong? To learn more about what Ento is doing, check out their video on Vimeo.