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Who Needs Meat When You've Got Bugs?

We may find the idea of insects as livestock disgusting, but could a bug farm possibly be any more foul than our fetid feedlots?
 
 
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We Americans have a bias against eating bugs -- well, most of us do, anyway. Just try serving your family a batch of homemade granola laced with pantry moth larvae -- I did, and it totally grossed them out. Once these miniscule maggots gatecrashed my granola, I tried to make the best of it and defended my locally grown larvae as a good source of protein along with the almonds, pecans, and walnuts. My niece didn't swallow it (too busy gagging, I guess.)

But people all over the world have been eating bugs on a regular basis for centuries without bugging out about it, as Sam Nejame's "Man Bites Insect" article in the New York Times the other day noted. We may find the concept of insects as livestock disgusting, but could an insect farm possibly be any more revolting than our fetid feedlots? Insects may even be nutritionally superior, according to Nejame:

Bugs compare favorably to traditional livestock in available protein and fatty acids; for some vitamins and minerals, they better them by a wide margin.

David Gracer, a connoisseur of bug-based cuisine, told Najame, "Insects can feed the world. Cows and pigs are the S.U.V.'s; bugs are the bicycles." Way to get us eco-weenies to board the bug-eating bandwagon; who doesn't love bicycles?

Food-insects.com also touts the "future potential of insects as a global food resource." Dr. Gene DeFoliart, Food-insects.com's editor, predicted in 1992 that if insects "become more widely accepted as a respectable food item in the industrialized countries, the implications are obvious. They would form a whole new class of foods made to order for low-input small-business and small-farm production. International trade in edible insects would almost certainly increase."

Of course, that's not counting the bugs China's already slipping into our food as a free trade bonus. As Hopkins noted:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and similar regulatory agencies elsewhere all permit a surprising number of "insect parts" in a given weight of packaged food because it is impossible to remove all of the insects during processing, especially in plants.

Is it time to start chowing down on some of those crawly critters we instinctively prefer to stomp on? The Feral Forager, a self-published 'zine excerpted in Sandor Katz's The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, rebrands pill bugs as "land shrimp"; grasshoppers are "surprisingly tasty and filling" and taste "something like popcorn"; crickets, "incredibly high in calcium and potassium." Roasted grubs make a fat-filled protein snack that, again, tastes "a lot like popcorn."

Earthworms make "a very nutritious flour," and ant eggs are edible, too; raw ant eggs reportedly taste "like couscous", but the author of the article confesses that "the only time I tried this it tasted like a hundred ants biting my tongue…"

But the Feral Foragers don't draw the line at eating insects; some of them go so far as to cross the (yellow) line in their pursuit of alternative food sources. As members of a North Carolina collective called Wildroots, they're what Katz calls "Roadkill Radicals" -- enthusiastic advocates of peeling "dishonored victims of the petroleum age" off the pavement and converting them into "food which nourishes."

As the Feral Forger notes, "picking up roadkill is a good way to get fresh, wild, totally free-range and organic meat for absolutely free." Finally, a silver lining to our car-crazed culture.

I may have had some vehicularly-slaughtered venison at the home of a foraging friend, once or twice, but I haven't yet embraced the concept of intentionally eating insects. I do have a recipe for grasshopper quesadillas in Albert Bates' excellent Post-Petroleum Survival Guide And Cookbook, but haven't been tempted to try it (the rest of his recipes are so tasty, though, that I may have to reconsider, assuming I could catch 2 cups worth of grasshoppers in the first place -- "about 100…the younger, the better" Bates says.)

If the thought of eating bugs and roadkill freaks you out, consider this: competition for the world's dwindling resources is heating up right along with the planet, and global warming is worsening food shortages all over the world. In this land o' plenty o' processed foods, most Americans can't imagine an era when we'd be forced to subsist on weeds, bugs, and -- till we run out of gas -- roadkill.

The funny thing is, though, that would constitute a healthier diet than the one most of us eat now. Weeds, after all, are higher in omega-3's than the cultivated crops our farmers grow. Maybe when we run out of petrochemicals and pesticides we'll start eating the weeds, instead. Toss in some grubs and a side of grilled groundhog, and you've got a well-balanced meal.

Kerry Trueman is the co-founder of EatingLiberally.org, a netroots website & organization that advocates sustainable agriculture, progressive politics and a less-consumption driven way of life. She's a foodie, blogger & edible landscaping enthusiast in NYC's West Village and the Hudson River Valley.

 
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