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  • QUILLS & QUEUES

    Doesn't bug me: insects as tasty treats

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  •  A friend recently shared an article on the ecological and health benefits of eating crickets, which led me to the book, “Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet,” by Daniella Martin.
     Martin is a certified entomophagist, or bug-eating expert, who makes the case that incorporating insects into the Western diet is more environmentally friendly than eating chicken or beef, because it takes fewer resources to raise a pound of crickets than a pound of beef with a comparable amount of nutrition. Bugs, she writes, “have far higher levels of vitamins like zinc, B-12, and calcium than most animal meat. The slaughtering and processing process are very humane and they can be raised and slaughtered much closer to urban areas than other meat can."
     She adds that there's a more important reason why people should eat insects: They taste good. Martin acknowledges an inevitable squeamishness for most westerners in regard to munching on creepy crawlies, but points out bugs have long been an important part of indigenous diets and cuisines around the world, and that insects are an efficient and sustainable food source. She discusses her travels to Thailand where the government is subsidizing local farmers to raise crickets, and where consumers can buy crickets in Costco stores.
     In other travels, she meets with Dutch researchers who have received a $4 million euro grant to study the potential of insects as food. She introduces readers to leaders of the global bugs-as-food movement, such as well-regarded entomophagist Dave Gracer, who supplies hard-to-find edible arthropods through his company, SmallStock Foods, and world class chef Jose Andres, who incorporates grasshoppers and other insects into elegant dishes.
     Martin describes nuances of flavors and textures in various insects: crickets have a nutty taste and are best roasted, wax worms have an earthy, mushroomy flavor, scorpions taste like lobster and giant water bugs have an intense, anchovy-like taste. “Katydids and bamboo worms,” writes Martin “are light and crispy like tiny French fries, only full of protein instead of starch.”
     She writes in an easy, conversational tone, and smoothly blends personal reflections, funny anecdotes and scientific research. I found myself reading parts out loud to my family, and my kids, rather than squealing and giggling nodded thoughtfully at Martin's logic toward bug-eating: “Why not make the best of what we have the most of?” They were intrigued by the idea of eating bugs and even volunteered to sample a few if I let them.
     I doubt Martin would be surprised by their delight. The book describes several moments in which she prepares bug dishes for television shows or various demos, and nearby the children happily gobble them up.
    “These kids aren't eating bugs for the shock effect ... they're doing it because bugs taste good,” she writes. Martin admits, however, that kids know how to push their parents' buttons.
    “Here they are taking something their parents tell them is gross, dirty or dangerous — and eating it!”
     For adventurous folks of all ages, the book includes a list of edible bugs, insect-farming techniques, cooking basics and recipes such as wax-worm tacos, sweet-and-spicy June bugs, kale salad topped with roasted crickets, and mixed-bug brownies.
     This is a book I'd give to my friends and family, and not just for the shocked looks but because Martin offers a meaningful argument for changing our attitude about adding insects to to our diet and coping with our dwindling resources. I may not start munching on the next beetle that scurries past me, but Martin's book is certainly (I can't resist) food for thought.
     Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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