I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater. In fact, I will easily go so far as to call myself a “foodie”. I’ve spent my adult life living on various continents, trying to understand the history and culture of the cuisine wherever I was living. I’ve patiently explained my dinner party plans to vendors at Parisian fromageries (in hopes they will approve and allow me to complete my purchase). I’ve “mastered” what I like to call Kitchen Croatian, or a knowledge of food nouns in that language, to be able to market and somewhat communicate recipes to kitchen staff while living there. Malayalam still totally eludes me, but it is one of the world’s most difficult languages after all, so please don’t hold that against me.
But to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never eaten a bug—other than crustaceans, which I jokingly call “sea bugs”. Granted, maybe it hasn’t been on my culinary radar until recently, but Entomophagy (from Greek éntomos, “insect(ed)”, and phăgein, “to eat”) is something I can’t help but notice now. Insects are a common form of protein in many regions of the world, and likely to be a more and more important one everywhere in the future.
New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear writes that “food preferences are highly local and irrational”. I couldn’t agree more. What is considered taboo (or disgusting) in one culture could be the national dish of another: think haggis or poutine and I need not say more.
My friend Steve Katz, a Technology Integration Specialist at Korea International School (http://www.stevenkatz.com/) has spent part of his time in Seoul and other parts of Asia trolling markets and restaurants for interesting food finds, from legless (snake) to four-legged (porcupine) to eight-legged (scorpion). He shared the centipede photo to the left with me. (I’m guessing he didn’t have the opportunity to eat to them, having had his fill with 8 legs.) His comments about eating scorpions: “They were so tasty we got seconds.”
When I think about jobs that I wish I had, writing about Gastronomy is near the top of the list. Dana Goodyear seems to have all the fun! Her article Grub: Eating Bugs to Save the Planet, from the August 15, 2011 edition of The New Yorker is a case in point. She opens the article with an introduction to Florence Dunkel, a grandmotherly entomologist from Montana State University. Assisting in the kitchen, Ms. Goodyear writes:
Score! Unfortunately, the on line version of this article is only available in “abstract” without a subscription, but I highly recommend searching out a copy in any way possible for the full amusing and highly educational content. But make sure you click through to the video included on the abstract page!
Head librarian at The New Yorker Magazine, Jon Michaud gets to write regularly for the Back Issues and Book Bench blogs on newyorker.com. He recently wrote on the subject of Entomophagy in the August 8, 2011, Insects or Hot Dogs, It’s Just Protein, where he quotes another of my favorite authors, John McPhee, from his 2007 Personal History, My Life List, where McPhee refers to Sandy Fraizer as his idol of “omnivorousness”.
A gift of chocolate-covered ants and bees appealed to him less for the chocolate than for the “chitinous crunch.” Long known in these pages as Ian, a name unfairly thought to be a sign of personal aggrandizement, he reads Leviticus for the sheer pleasure of its culinary attention to “unclean creeping things.” That phrase belongs, Lord knows, to Leviticus, for it could never be from Sandy, who is incapable of writing such a description of anything, anywhere, that can qualify as protein.
In the end, protein is what entomophagy is all about. Current practices of animal husbandry are becoming more and more unsustainable, as world populations increase and available agricultural land decreases. “Minilivestocking” has the multiple benefits of saving grains currently used as animal feed for human consumption, a higher energy input to protein output ratio, space required, and speed of reproduction, not to mention the lack of methane gases produced, which is a huge problem with cattle and other conventional livestock…all indicators of a very small agricultural footprint, indeed.
The Agricultural Ministry of the Netherlands recently granted Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningan University, a million euros to research insect husbandry. Despite being a personal convert after his travels in Africa, van Huis and his university colleague Marcel Dicke knew they had to overcome a large psychological hurdle against ingesting insects in Western culture. They considered options to introduce them into food in ways where they would no longer be recognizable, the way meat is used in sausages, or fish in fish sticks.
“Bug Nugget,” anyone?
Or do you prefer your bugs straight up? I’d love to know!