I was psyched; I was ready; I actually wanted to eat this cricket.
So reads the first line of an article I wrote about edible insects for Vue. I want you to imagine eating a cricket, or a mealworm, or a beetle grub: I know you just flinched, or made a face, or squirmed involuntarily. Being grossed out by the sight of a bug – let alone by the thought of popping one in your mouth – is deeply ingrained in Western society.
And it’s all a bunch of bullshit. Insects are just as good a protein source as chickens or pigs or cows, only they have the benefit of being exponentially more plentiful and easier to farm. There has been a lot of press – mainstream press – about edible insects lately, for just this reason. It’s no secret that food shortages are widespread throughout huge areas of the world and the side effects of the industrial agriculture industry are getting worse every day. The resources needed to produce a single hamburger are shockingly high, let alone the environmental impact of same.
Insects are being hailed as the “food of the future” because they present a very real and achievable remedy to the woes of conventional protein sources. Now, this is an inanely grandiose title – do we really want just a single future food? – not to mention simply incorrect: over a third of the world’s population consume insects already. You can buy grasshoppers (chapulines) from street vendors in Oaxaca; walk into Thailand’s version of Costco and you’ll find big bags of frozen crickets and grubs alongside the French fries and mixed vegetables.
For further convincing (because I know you’re still deeply suspicious), go read that story I wrote for Vue. Better yet, go read Daniella Martin’s wonderful book, which singlehandedly convinced me that insects not only make a lot of economic sense, but they actually taste pretty good too. About 40 pages into Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet, I was completely fascinated. Halfway through, I couldn’t wait to try insects myself. I’m truly not exaggerating – this is a fascinating subject, but besides that: insects taste good.
Sadly, I have yet to experience this firsthand. The only insects I could find in Edmonton were preserved crickets and mealworms made by Hotlix and sold as a novelty at Carol’s Quality Sweets. They are quite literally the insect equivalent of junk food – only way more expensive ($3.85 for a handful) and not tasty at all: the crickets tasted like salt and vinegar cardboard while the mealworms were like puffed rice with a hint of barbecue flavour. Forget being grossed out by eating a bug – these were just super disappointing.
The entomophagy movement definitely has not reached Edmonton yet, but it’s only a matter of time before it does. For my part, I intend to spread the entomophagy message as much as I can: I’ll be leading Vue’s special issue on edible insects about a year from now, and hopefully before then I’ll have plenty of personal experience preparing and consuming insects properly – that is, as part of a well-prepared, delicious meal. I’m hoping to convince a local restaurant to host an entomophagy tasting alongside that special issue. If Noma is doing it, why shouldn’t we? Besides: crickets are basically just land shrimp, anyway.