By Gary Raham
Today, people often freak out when insects arrive at a picnic, but sometime—perhaps soon—such once unwelcome guests may just be extra salad garnish. Individuals like David Gracer, owner of Small Stock Food Strategies, LLC, encourage entomophagy (the fancy scientific term for eating insects) because of economic and ecological benefits and scientists like Gene R. DeFoliart at www.food-insects.com also promote them for nutritional reasons. After all, they assert, bugs are a regular part of the human diet in over a hundred countries. Gracer describes insects as a kind of “land shrimp” no ickier than crab or lobster and provides insights into their preparation as food on both www.smallstockfoods.com and on his blog http://bugsfordinner.blogspot.com/.
To overcome the natural resistance to popping a grub in your mouth, benefits need to be substantial. Here are a few for consideration:
High nutritional value
Most insects can claim protein concentrations above 60%. House cricket protein beats soy protein for necessary amino acids. According to Professor DeFoliart, insects tend to be high in lysine and threonine, amino acids that tend to be deficient in the wheat, rice, cassava and maize-based diets prevalent in many parts of the world.
While insects vary considerably in fat content, those fats do tend to be the long-chained, unsaturated, heart-healthy variety. Insects all tend to score highly as vitamin and mineral sources. Just three crickets a day can fulfill a person’s iron requirements. They are also high in zinc and calcium.
Lucrative small business income
In Japan, young grasshoppers boiled in soy sauce are sold as luxury items. Mitsuhashi, a Japanese author, thinks collecting young grasshoppers by school students and their parents “is an activity that adds poetic charm to rice paddies in autumn.” Another Japanese treat, cooked wasps, provided a favorite meal for the late Emperor Hirohito, when mixed with cooked rice.
Raising insects (or other arthropods) as small cash crops takes a lot less real estate. Ranching crickets and locusts use much less space than raising cattle, pigs, and other large vertebrates. One source of insects for restaurants along the Colorado Front Range is Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch (www.rmmr.co/). They serve as a supplier for The Welsh Rabbit in Fort Collins (200B Walnut Street), a bistro that can introduce customers to insect cuisine, if desired.
Another “green” industry
Those crickets discussed above prove to be about twenty times more efficient than beef in converting grass into food, according to DeFoliart. As Gracer says “cows and pigs are the SUVs of the food world” (when it comes to metabolically burning grass). “And bugs—they’re the Priuses, maybe even the bicycles.”
Unlike pigs, for example, insects are mostly vegans. They eat a wide variety of plants, which may help explain why insects provide such a good mix of vitamins and minerals.
And entomophagy may be a great way to control certain pests. Don’t spray ‘em, eat ‘em instead. Indians in the American west used to make good use of Mormon cricket outbreaks by herding them into deep, crescent-shaped ditches, adding some dried grass, and setting it on fire to create roasted treats.
A few drawbacks
Gracer calls insects “land shrimp” and they have some of the same drawbacks. People allergic to shellfish will probably also be allergic to insects in their diet (because the chitin in their exoskeletons is nearly identical). And all insects are not edible. Some produce poisons of various sorts designed to discourage predators or pick up potentially dangerous plant chemicals. Monarch butterflies, for example, store glycosides from their milkweed food plants that would be bad for one’s heart.
Insect cuisine is becoming more common nation-wide. A New Orleans restaurant offers buggy dining as a spin off from the Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium. Cornell University offers insect eating at their fall Insectapalooza, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has an autumn BugFest and Purdue offers a spring Bug Bowl.
For older generations, disguising bugs may ease a transition to entomophagy. Some of the products at Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, for example include Chirpy Jerky, cricket flour, and cricket Tagliatelle pasta. (See https://www.rmmr.co/shop-edible-bugs)
Besides, you’ve sampled bugs already. Even the FDA allows 60 insect fragments in 6 100-gram chocolate samples and 30 fragments per 100 grams of peanut butter.