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Eating Bugs: Earth’s Culinary Future

It’s inevitable.

Might as well get your taste buds ready now.

Short of providing every family with a Star Trek food-replicator, how else can we adequately feed a population that is likely to exceed nine billion by the year 2050?

Like it or not, bugs are coming to a dinner plate near you. And restaurant and grocery store and street food vendor.

Hundreds of cultures around the world already do as Simba must — have always done so, in fact. But here in Western society, insects and arachnids carry a certain stigma that will undoubtedly require a generation or two to eliminate or at least diminish before people even consider voluntarily placing one in their mouths. Hell, many struggle to summon the will to get close enough to a cockroach to stomp on it. Up until now, entomophagy — or bug-eating — has been associated with mental illness (in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the delusional inmate Renfield feasts on flies and spiders), survivalists’ last resort before starving to death and sadistic American game shows.

Fear Factor will unlikely be credited with pushing forward the insect-eating agenda.

Fear Factor will unlikely be credited with pushing forward the insect-eating agenda.

And of course who can forget the nauseating dinner scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Tastes like chi -- Nah, fuck it, tastes like a bug.

“Tastes like chi — Nah, fuck it, tastes like a bug.”

And then this guy:

eating_bug

To put it mildly, convincing Europeans and Americans that consuming pests is in their best interest will be no easy task. Advocates of insect-eating might as well try convincing them to eat glass. There’s just something intrinsically, inherently icky about these creatures that prevents most everyone from entertaining the thought of ingesting them — even to stay alive. It’s not a stretch to say that some people, if given the choice between eating only bugs or nothing, would sooner choose to die of malnourishment.

But that’s mainly due to the fact that we’ve been conditioned and programmed to believe that insects and arachnids are vile, disgusting creatures that root in dog shit — as if pigs don’t do the same thing. And yet many people are of the opinion that bacon is basically meat candy.

One of the problems is that usually whenever entomophagy is portrayed in films or on TV, the critters are uncooked and sometimes still alive — segmented little bodies writhing about, spindly legs twitching, antennae groping, wings thrumming, blank soulless eyes staring. No wonder the idea disgusts people.

On the contrary, prepared and cooked insects and arachnids, besides being nutritious and plentiful, showcase a cornucopia of flavors that people already enjoy. Scorpions taste like shrimp. Termites taste like carrots. Huhu grubs taste like peanut butter. Palm weevil larvae taste like meat candy, or bacon. There’s no reason to think that, were entomophagy to catch on here in the US, everyone would be slurping down live wriggling caterpillars like Simba.

(Coincidentally, caterpillars provide more iron and protein than an equivalent serving of minced meat. That’s pretty good, considering that they subsist on leaves and flowers, which humans don’t eat. Livestock in the US alone, on the other hand, annually gorge on enough grains to feed an estimated 840 million people, more than the entire population of Europe.)

Outside of the vegetarian/vegan crowd, there’s nothing culturally repugnant about eating chicken tenders, which don’t resemble the feathered animal at all. But would you eat a raw chicken? A live chicken? If this were the most widely-depicted way to eat poultry, as it is with bugs, chicken probably wouldn’t appear on too many menus, and the owners of Chick-fil-a would have to find some other means to finance their bigotry against the LGBT community.

What Sarah and Todd don't realize is that their bags are filled with live tarantulas.

What Sarah and Todd don’t realize is that their bags have been filled with live tarantulas.

Raw fish, by the way, is eaten by thousands everyday without their being repulsed by it — though many are and refuse to touch the stuff. Like bugs, sushi was until recently a weird taboo foreign “food” in Europe and America, not achieving mainstream status until at least the late 1980s. In the 1950s, in fact, the US Embassy in Japan advised visiting Americans to avoid eating uncooked fish — not because of any evidence that sushi was harmful necessarily but because the idea of raw fish was, to Westerners, culturally revolting and barbaric. Sushi was the foodstuff of sick, uneducated and desperate peasants who knew no better than to shovel unsanitary fish-flesh down their gullets.

How attitudes have changed. Sixty years later, no upscale suburb in the US would be complete without at least half a dozen sushi joints.

Half a century from now, will “insectarias” populate our commercial centers? After getting your nails done or hair trimmed, will you think nothing of popping into the nearby “bug bar” for a scrumptious bag of cricket-kabobs and mantis-snaps?

Before you answer “hell no,” consider that you’ve already eaten literally hundreds of bugs today without realizing it — maggots, ants, aphids, mites, fruit flies. Whether your food came canned, frozen, bagged, processed or directly off the vine, you most certainly have ground up untold insect particles between your molars and swallowed them down.

Perhaps it’s time we start acknowledging insects and arachnids for what they are: an abundant, renewable, inexpensive, nutritious and — when cooked — delicious food source.

Hakuna matata!

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