Entomophagy & the Insect Eaters

Deep fried crickets in Cambodia. Photo credit: mckaysavage at flickr Creative Commons.

I’ve been on a search for a people who eat insects for the past week now. I’ve seen the specials on National Geographic where they send their reporter to southern Asia where he tastes the crunchy fried and dried insects. He reports some canned line like, “they taste just like chicken!” before suggesting that insects are the only way to sustain the world population at its current size.

The logic goes like this: producing meat grows more expensive each year, especially as the human population booms and expands onto what used to be farmland.  Insects are everywhere, and scientists estimate that they make up a tenth of the mass of all life on earth. Current livestock estimates are a little higher than that…the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan quoted a paper from this summer saying that livestock biomass outdid humans on a 2:1 ratio.

While insects can’t compete with that mass, there are other benefits.  No one has to grow fields of corn just to feed what will be their dinner. People feed cows and fish with several times as much feed as the animal will weigh when it is eaten, so there’s far more going into the animal than we get out of it. Regardless of how green your growing policies are, you’re throwing away enough corn to feed a family for a few weeks each time you have a steak dinner. Farming insects would decrease this drain because insects reproduce and mature quickly, meaning they require less feed in between.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, since so far we don’t even eat enough insects to think about farming them.

I’d never encountered anyone in the states who actually eats insects regularly. I don’t even know how you would go about such a task…would you just go outside and catch some crickets for supper?

Then I discovered Daniella Martin, who maintains an insect eating blog called Girl Meets Bug. She shares insect eating recipes, complete with a dose of crawly humor. Her blog led me to several other individuals who are sharing their insect eating adventures online.

While the public seems to accept that agriculture in the US needs an overhaul, most people are still averse to eating bugs. This is where folks like Daniella come in and fill a niche.  We need someone to get us excited about trying new foods, even those that initially make our stomach squirm.

In my favorite video, Daniella fries up a scorpion for dinner.

Meanwhile, Daniella directed me to Small Stock Foods, where Dave Gracer farms insects and points enthusiasts to insect farmers near them. Time to get my deep fryer out… If you’re feeling less bold, you can sample insects at a few restaurants in the US.

One of my friends sent me this friendly beetle he encountered in Chile. I guess we insect enthusiasts acquire a reputation.

The thing about eating insects is that insects might not be doing so well either. It’s not just charisma that’s keeping the insect from becoming the new face of Greenpeace. My undergraduate research took me to a rural town in southern Costa Rica, where I collected insects from different locations.  Some of my insects came from the lush forests of the preserve surrounding my research station, while others hailed from coffee farms and open fields for cattle grazing. Even though the farming patterns in Costa Rica are more sustainable than here, insects on farmland aren’t thriving the same way as those on preserves. This is especially a problem since we can’t pinpoint exactly how insects are helpful; we just know that when some groups are completely gone, life doesn’t run as smoothly.

Despite my concerns, this entomologist may be turning entomophagist…especially when I can afford enough space to grow insects in my apartment. Daniella has even provided me with a list of edible insects to get me started. I’ll take a risk with my favorite critters if it means the miles of agricultural lands in the US get a short break.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s