PLEASE PASS THE PUPA

I just read Dana Goodyear’s article in the New Yorker (August 15, 2011) entitled “Eating Bugs to Save the Planet.”

Now before a gag reflex overcomes you here are some interesting facts:

  • 4/5th of all animals are insects
  • 80% of the world population already eats insects
  • Insects are four times more efficient converting fuel to meat

Also, did you know the manna that sustained Moses and his followers in the desert was believed to be honeydew, which is excrement of scale insects?  And if that isn’t enough to get you on board, did you know that honey is actually bee vomit, which we can all agree is better than most vomit created from college freshmen during pledge week?

Already some restaurants are featuring insects in their dishes.  Guelaguetza in Los Angeles serves grasshoppers sautéed with onions, jalapenos and tomatoes.  Recent James Beard winner, José Andrés, has created an Oaxacan grasshopper taco.

Most people may see this line of dining avant-garde, but Andrés sees it as a necessary step, saying “We need to feed humanity in a sustainable way.  And although delicious, 7-11’s Slurpees are not the answer.”

Goodyear states in her article that by 2050 there will be over nine billion people and Old Country Buffet will not be able to accommodate them all for Sunday brunch.  So, insects may not be a fad or a personal choice but more of a necessity.

I know if I was on a raft in the middle of the ocean with Jiminy the Cricket, Dora the Explorer and Popeye the Sailor, and food was getting tight, the first thing I would do is ask Popeye if he needed help finishing his spinach.  And if Popeye’s only response was to flex his muscles, I would begin to refer to one of my raft-mates solely as “the cricket.”

There may be valid reasons seeing insects as a source of food even though many hurdles must be overcome.

The Ick Factor.  Let’s face it, when it comes to good looking, most insects are not.  Animals don’t have to be cute to be eaten, but they shouldn’t look like some alien nightmare with eyes bigger than heads, legs longer than torsos and wings that could be strapped to some spaceship.  Plus, insects like to hang out in some nasty quarters: under damp rocks, garbage heaps, rotting carcasses or as Heather Looy, a psychologist who studies food aversions states “They (insects) go into dirty places, but so do fungi… And you don’t want to know about crabs, shrimp and lobster.”

Looy’s right.  I don’t.  So let’s move on two number two.

The names.  Termites. Slugs. Stinkbugs. Maggots. Is anybody going to eat anything with the word cockroach in it?

One way around this problem is to refer to the individual insect by the Latin name.  So if anybody tries to offer you a selection of Tenebrio, take a pass unless you are a big fan of mealworms.

Unbelievable pests.  When a fly lands on a hamburger to take a poop, the rest of the picnic is ruined. The last thing a person thinks when he or she sees a centipede crawling down a kitchen wall is possible appetizer.  When I open a bag of old rice and see tiny little worms crawling through the kernels, I’m never going to say “Great, more protein!”

Too small.  Unlike the Amazon or Africa where insects are the size of apartment dogs, the European and North American counterparts are tiny.  For example it would take 1000 grasshoppers to equal a 12 ounce steak.  Who has the time to round up 1000 grasshoppers for dinner?  But if insects came in bigger sizes, how we approached them would be different.  Or as Tom Turpin, an entomologist at Purdue, says “If there were insects out there the size of pigs, I guarantee there would be a hell of a lot of mother’s who wouldn’t let their kids play in the backyard.”

Taste.  At the latter part of the article Goodyear meets up with an entomology advocate and blogger of “Girl Meets Bug,” Daniella Martin, who treats Goodyear to dinner by making a BLT.  But instead of bacon, Martin substitutes drone honey bees.

“It tastes like bacon,” Martin replies after taking a couple of bites.

Funny, I would think bacon tastes like bacon and bees would taste whatever bees taste like.  Goodyear described the taste as leaving “a disturbing aftertaste of dried shrimp.”

But that didn’t seem to dampen Martin’s enthusiasm for she pulled out a tailless whip scorpion from the freezer.

They say in the article most aversion to insects can be overcome by dipping them in chocolate.  I think that’s cheating.  I’m pretty sure you can dip anything into chocolate and people will eat it.  Cardboard.  Credit cards.  You could probably dip this tailless whip scorpion in a warm pan of melted milk chocolate and I guarantee you I would try to eat around it.