Frank Bures: Crunch goes the cricket

September 30, 2018

Dr. Frank Bures

Entomophagy (En-toe-MAH-fa-gee) is a new word for most people. It is from Greek entomos for insect and phagein, eating. I hope knowing the word’s meaning doesn’t make it too hard to swallow.

The inspiration for this Hint came from my favorite author, Frank Bures. No, not the guy you’re reading now, but his son, who really writes for his living. That’s our boy. His article in the May-June Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine was on the topic of creepy, crawly cuisine (also the title of a cookbook by biologist Julieta Ramos-Elorduy). I plagiarized his title “Crunch Goes the Cricket.” (Disclaimer: this Hint may elicit a rather high “ick and eww!” factor.)

Consumption of the larvae, eggs, and adults of some insects has been done since prehistoric times. Today 80 percent of the world’s population consumes crawlies. Around 3,000 ethnic groups eat over 1,000 species of 6-8 legged critters. The parts of the world where it is common are Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and even 11 countries in all of Europe. In so-called western societies of the U.S. and Europe it’s not done much, and has been even taboo some places.

Why eat things we usually swat or battle with insecticides? They can be very nutritious, packed with protein, fiber, good fats, and some minerals, as much or more than many other food sources. For instance, mealworms, the larval form of darkling beetles, provide protein, vitamins, and minerals on a par with those of fish and mammalian meat. Small grasshoppers yield protein similar to lean ground beef with less fat per gram. We need a source of long chained essential fatty acids like omegas e, 6, and 9 for larger brain development. They come in plants, seafood, and insects. (Several politicians should have eaten more as kids.)

What insect breeds are delectable? They can include crickets, butterflies and moths, beetles, ants, bees and wasps, grasshoppers, cockroaches, termites, dragonflies, stinkbugs, as well as cicadas. I may have left a few out. Crickets are often integrated into other foods as ground up powder. It can be used as a flour for baking, like moist banana cricket bread, mint cricket cookies with a chocolate coating (Yum?), or doughy cricket brownies with a crisp outer layer.

In 2008 the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) published a paper ”Forest Insects As Food: Humans Bite Back.” Since then the interest in entomophagy has been perking up in the West. Several companies have sprung up to mass produce consumable insects, like Tiny Farms, Chapul (Chapulin, the Mexican name for grasshopper), All Things Bugs, and Aspire, the first large scale industrialized farming entomophagy company in the U.S.

What are some good points to converting to buggy breads and main courses? Raising and harvesting insects takes a lot less land than cows, pigs, and sheep do. They convert their food into protein far more efficiently than livestock, and manufacture far less greenhouse gases such as methane than herds of flatulent mammals. The UN’s FAO released another paper in 2013 titled, “Edible Insects — future prospects for food and feed security,” suggesting insects could ease problems of global food shortages. All Things Bugs company began a research project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called “Good Bugs: Sustainable Food for Malnutrition in Children.” The goal is to formulate insect powder into ready-to-use therapeutic food as a relatively inexpensive solution to the malnutrition deaths of 5 million children annually.

Without throwing sour grapes — or centipedes — on entomophagy, I did come across a report from a journal of tropical medicine and hygiene of parasitic infection in a Chinese mother and her adult son, who acquired a serious parasite from eating raw centipedes purchased at an open-air market. They apparently thought it was good for their health. Au contraire, mon Frere. Humans are typically exposed to a bug called a rat lungworm via raw or poorly cooked snails, slugs, monitor lizards, frogs, or fish (all on your shopping list, I bet). While primarily seen in China and Southeast Asia, it is found globally, including in parts of the U.S., in the invasive apple snail in Louisiana and the invasive African land snail in Florida. It proves that cooking ALL your food first is best, not just pork, chicken, eggs, and beef. I’ll take my cicadas well done.

After you have said “Eww or Ick” for the fourth time if you managed to read this far, don’t knock it until you try it. Not only your broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and spinach are good for you, but maybe your bugs are, too. Consider them cuisine, not “queas-ine”. Thanks to our progeny for this Hints’ inspiration.

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