Twenty-five years ago few Americans, with the exception of those of us who spent considerable time in the Far East, would eat sushi and sashimi – raw fish and rice – but today it holds an honorable spot, right up there with the best gourmet offerings, in many of our diets.
Many of us in our sunset years may never live to see it. But there are those out there betting that bugs and insects will find a like position in the American diet in another quarter of a century or less.
That may be a repulsive thought to some of you. But turns out, most of us have been eating bugs and insects -in some form or another – most of our lives.
I don’t know how many of you grew up in a rural area like I did. But it was not uncommon for us to pull a fresh carrot or radish out of the soil, wipe it off, and eat it. I’m sure we got a few mites in our bites doing that.
And, if you were one of the unfortunate “city” kids that came to visit, it was not below us to put a couple of “rabbit pellets” in your peanut butter and crackers. There was more than one kid that ate a few bugs and insects second hand in our younger days.
Today, even you, unknowingly could be among them.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration publishes a Food Defect Action Level List that sets the allowable standards of insect particles in food before corrective action is taken by the USFDA. Here is a sample of some:
- Chocolate may average 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams.
- Canned Citrus Fruit Juices may contain five or more Drosophila and other fly eggs and one maggot per 250 milliliters.
- Red Fish and Ocean Perch may contain one parasites accompanied by a pus pocket.
- Macaroni and Noodle Products may average 225 insect fragments per 225 grams in any six or more random samples.
- Peanut Butter many contain an average of 30 insect fragments per 100 grams.
- Popcorn may contain a single rodent excreta pellet in a single random sample.
- Wheat Flour may contain an average of 75 insect fragments per 50 grams.
So, none of us have probably been completely immune from eating a few bugs and insects in our lives.
It’s like the time my wife and I were eating breakfast in a rustic fishing camp restaurant in Texas and she broke open her fresh-baked biscuit only to find a roach cooked into it. The waitress didn’t hesitate a minute: “Here, let me have that,” she said, “I’ll get you a fresh one.” And that’s exactly what she did. Luckily the new biscuit was roach free.
I know I have eaten some pretty weird things in my life, some of which I had no idea of what they were. Nonetheless, chocolate-covered crickets are not bad. The cook who prepared the ones I ate gave me one word of caution, though:
“It’s best to freeze the crickets when you get them. That way you know they will be dead when you get ready to cook them. It’s difficult to keep live crickets from jumping out of the skillet when you’re trying to crisp them,” he said.
Actually, crickets taste something like a cross between a shrimp and an almond. They are highly nutritious when dried and when it comes to protein they rival beef pound-for-pound a far exceed it in the calcium and iron they deliver. To top that off, crickets require far less resources to raise than cattle or hogs. London-based start-up Ento is betting it can get Westerners hooked on bugs by using creative branding and packaging. They are packaging and marketing things like caterpillar cubes and baked wax worms claiming the wax worms taste a lot like pistachios.
Ento says the only significant barriers to insect meat are cultural based on Western perceptions that insects are “dirty, gooey and unsafe.”
Ento is preparing its foods in an Asian context and packaging it along with chopsticks and sauce. By “abstracting” the appearance of insects, Ento hopes to overcome perceptions of bugs as the polar opposites of food.
And Ento is getting support from the European Commission. The ED is offering a £2.65 million ($4.32 million) prize to the group that comes up with the best idea for developing insects as a popular food. The Commission is counting on cattle and other large animals being an increasingly untenable source of protein in decades to come, and hopes that some research group will be able to devise ways to convince people to eat insects despite the inherent “yuck” value.
The EC is also helping support a project by the United Kingdom Food Standards agency to investigate the nutritional value of insects. The ED claims insect meat is much lower in fat, and higher in calcium, than beef or pork.
In many parts of the world eating insects is quite common. In some parts of Mexico crickets and grasshoppers have long been a staple on taco menus. Maggot sandwiches are an up-and-coming delicacy at some state fairs. Even in the U.S. a recent lawsuit alleged insects are a standard ingredient in hot dogs.
A holiday dinner of roast grasshopper with a side of wax worms topped off with a nice dessert of candied crickets may loom in our future – if we can just learn to stomach it.
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