Have you tried edible insects? My family did, and we loved them!
My family is Entomophagous. We’re insectivores. We eat bugs, intentionally. It started out innocently enough: Back in the early 90s, my husband and I were looking for a way to improve our five children’s nutrition while reducing our consumption of red meat and poultry. Sending them to elementary school with textured vegetable protein burgers and miso soup turned out to be more of an exercise in defending our lifestyle choices (to teachers and classmates alike) and was more than any child should be expected to take on. We ultimately home-schooled our children but that’s another story.
I was selecting books for our former brick and mortar shop, Sirius Mind and Body, and I came across a review for one entitled Creepy Crawly Cuisine, the Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, Ph.D. Intrigued, I ordered the book. Part of our family mission (which we extended into our shop) was to challenge concepts, assumptions, and biases. My husband and I saw incorporating bugs into our diet as an opportunity to encourage open-mindedness in our children. And we’d seen enough documentaries about other cultures to recognize that insects are a significant part of diets around the world so there must be something to it.
By the time Creepy Crawly Cuisine arrived, I had already taken the children on a field trip to the University of Minnesota’s Entomology Department. We learned that the reason insects are so common in diets around the world is that they are extremely high in protein and nutrients and provide an excellent source of unsaturated fat. Most insects can be consumed in all of their growth stages (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) and their complete biomass is usable. There is virtually no waste, as compared to fish, of which 40 percent is waste.
Cultural Bias –
When a former co-worker, a nurse practitioner, stopped by our shop, she reviewed the nutritional values of insects compared with foods commonly consumed by North Americans, she had to admit being impressed. If we could just get over our culture-based biases! David George Gordon, the author of The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, believes this bias, now nearly a social taboo, occurred primarily because early European settlers viewed insects as competition for their crops. And because they perceived Native American’s relationship with nature as barbaric, so was their choice to consume grasshoppers, ants, and caterpillars. In contrast, it is widely reported that during locust swarms in northern Africa, the locusts are collected and stored for later use, usually for important celebrations. It’s all in how you choose to see things.
What’s on the Menu?
While the pictures in Creepy Crawly Cuisine show tasteful displays of mealworm spaghetti and mango-grasshopper chutney, trying to source stink bugs for Stink Bug Pate or a pound of live leaf-footed bugs for pizza was next to impossible. We settled for two recipes that we found in Entertaining With Insects by Ronald Taylor and Barbara Carter. All we needed were mealworms and crickets.
The Shopping Challenge –
The toughest part was trying to find a place to buy the bugs. I can’t tell you how many times I prefaced my request with, “Don’t hang up, I know this sounds weird but do you carry edible insects?” Finally, we settled for the pet shop. The children and I walked into one of those large chain stores and picked out three containers of mealworms and 50 small crickets. We also got two clear plastic bug ranches, so we could watch them instead of storing them in the fridge. “What kind of pet are you going to feed these to?” the checkout clerk sweetly asked the children. They looked at me, and I handed her the recipes for Oatmeal Mealworm Cookies and Crickets With Mushrooms Over Rice. “Well, honey is bee vomit!!” our 3-year-old said indignantly, as the woman dropped the recipes and stepped away from us in horror. We had already prepared the children to expect that a lot of people would probably have the same reaction because this would be something new to them. Our family agreed that this would be our way to help people expand their horizons.
We city dwellers rarely handle our food while it is alive. Because the mealworms were packed in sawdust, we transferred them to a bug ranch that we filled with oatmeal and a slice of potato for them to eat, and then gave them a few days to clear their systems.
In yet another exercise in opening minds, we kept the bug ranches on display in our shop. When asked what they were for, one of the children would pull Man Eating Bugs by Peter Menzel and Faith D’aluisio off the shelf, open to the beautiful photos of insectivores around the world, and proudly announce, “These are going to be our dinner.”
Good Eats, Seriously!
Once you swallow the idea of what you’re eating, you’ll discover bugs are delicious! Insects are in the same family as lobster, shrimp, and other shellfish. We dry roasted a few mealworms for our first try. They tasted like cashew-fed shrimp. I must admit, the way my family downed the pot of crickets and mushrooms over rice brought a warm glow of pride to my heart.
Purchasing from the pet shop can get expensive but we found a wonderful supplier called The Rainbow Mealworms Company, that ships live insects to the public. I spoke to Cindy at Rainbow Mealworm and she was totally unfazed by my request. She says they have been providing edible insects for quite some time.
Along with all of the cookbooks I’ve mentioned, our children convinced us to start carrying ‘Insect-Inside’ lollipops, which have a full grasshopper or scorpion in them, at the shop. They were certain that was the best way for the wary to get their first intentional taste of bugs. They were right.
In the years following our first insect meal, our family embraced entomophagy by completely replacing the meat in our diet with insects. We found a second company, Fluker Farms, that also ships live insects.
We’re delighted in the slow, but steady acceptance of bug food.
Our children are all grown now and most of us are vegetarian, but every once in a while, we all admit to craving roasted mealworms.
Have you ever tried edible insects? Which ones did you try and what did you think? Please tell us about your experiences in the comments section below!