“I’m like freaking myself out more,” I said, adjusting my sunglasses as they threatened to tumble from their perch atop my head.
“I know, exactly, that’s why we’ve just gotta do it,” Jalyse agreed, coaxing me along. I looked at what was in my hand, and my stomach churned, nearly triggering my gag reflex.
“Don’t think about it!” encouraged my other friend, ReBekha. Easy for her to say – she’d already done it and was now watching with amusement, camera in hand, filming for posterity’s sake.
The three of us were standing on a busy street in one of Chiang Mai’s day markets, looking at the local snacks in our hands. The snacks looked back up at us, or so I imagined, and my stomach grew queasier. Pinched between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand was a small cricket, fried crisp and brown, antennae lying along its back, ovipositer attached like a stinger. And I was supposed to eat this?
Quailing, I quickly said, “I can’t do this!” wishing I had the nerve to eat this small creature while also wishing that another friend hadn’t had the bright idea of purchasing a bag of fried crickets in the first place. Jalyse and I were the last of the group who were willing to try them, and she and I had promised each other that we would eat one at the same time so that neither of us could back out.
But eat a cricket? Who does that?!
About 80% of the world’s nations consume over 1,000 types of insects, actually. Who knew? (I didn’t, but now I do, and now you do, too! We’re all about learning here at Persephone!) Although there are many places that practice bug consumption, or entomophagy, there are also many places where cultural taboos about eating insects exist. Think the good ol’ US of A, for example, where people might consider it unpatriotic.
For myself, although I did end up eating that cricket in Thailand – and at least one other – I had to talk myself through a mental block before I could eat it. I even – gasp! – liked it after I got over my horror. Insects are not my friends. I’ve had a few too many semi-traumatic experiences with the little critters to think highly of them, and the idea of eating them even now kind of makes my skin crawl. Still, since I’ve eaten them before and they weren’t too bad – tasted like sunflower seeds with the husk still on, actually – I’m tempted to try them again. I don’t think I could handle live bugs or uncooked bugs or squishy bugs – like grubs – but I’d eat something that was fried.
Here’s a video I found awhile ago about a North American man who practices entomophagy. He has some interesting views on the practice, and a few of his theories seem a little “out there,” but he has some very practical reasons for practicing entomophagy. The most compelling point he makes is that of the sustainability of eating bugs for protein versus eating beef or chicken or some other kind of meat. It takes very little to raise insect livestock. He estimates that in the future, entomophagy will become more common out of necessity, and even though that future may be a long way off – or maybe never come – it still might be worth the effort to try eating bugs sometime.
Some of the benefits to eating bugs is that in addition to providing cheap, sustainable protein, insects also provide a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and fats. For people whose diet is very grain-heavy, insects help provide lysine, an amino acid that would otherwise be missing from their food. In places like Africa and Asia, where rice, millet, and cornmeal provide major staples and raising animal livestock can be difficult, eating insects just makes sense.
If after reading all of this, you are now interested in trying out entomophagy, a word of warning. Be aware of where the bugs you are eating have been harvested. Any insects that could have been in contact with herbicides would be poisonous for human consumption. Traces of dangerous substances like lead can occasionally show up in insect populations as well. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re doing, I recommend locating an international grocery store that may provide what you’re looking for instead of trying to catch or harvest your own. I’m lucky that the Asian grocery store down the street carries dade, and one of these days, I swear I’m going to buy some to eat at home.
In Western culture, entomophagy is considered so bizarre that we in the west often have a hard time digesting this concept – pun totally intended. If you’ve tried eating bugs, what was your experience? If you haven’t, would you try it out? I’ll leave you with those questions and a video of my second cricket consumption. Warning: bug guts.