The Taste of Tomorrow

Grilled locusts in Thailand.

Maybe once, in a mescal-induced trance, you sucked down the little worm (actually a moth larva) at the bottom of the bottle. But insects as a regular source of sustenance? Bizzare Foods territory, right? Actually, there is nothing bizarre about eating crawly little buggers.

In fact, insects might hold the answer to a growing world’s food needs. They are high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol and plentiful. As it is, about 70 percent of all grain goes to feeding livestock. The developing world’s taste for meat will only intensify that imbalance.

It’s not exactly a new idea. People in 80 percent of the world’s nations eat more than 1,000 insects, according to a July 2010 Guardian article. So, what will it take for Americans to get past the queasiness factor? A Thailand vacation might help. Sure, you will find food carts hawking fried crickets to thrill-seeking backpackers on Bangkok’s Khao San Road.

But try going farther afield for a wider range of insect delicacies in the markets and fairs that dot the countryside.

On a trip around the Land of Smiles a few years ago, I tried fried grilled locusts at a highway rest stop and water beetles at a community festival. They were – surprise – pretty tasty. It’s not so surprising, actually, when you consider what a little hot oil, salt and chili leaves will do for just about anything. It didn’t seem like a stretch to imagine them as bar snacks.

In the U.S., urbanites can find insects on some daring restaurants’ menus. Entrepreneurs such as University of Chicago student Matthew Krisiloff are beginning to market them. Krisiloff’s Entom Foods is gearing up to sell crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms shaped like shrimp or made into patties like hamburgers sans wings, eyes and legs. Publications such as The New Yorker, Time Out and The New York TimesChicago News Cooperative have taken notice.

Don’t think you will ever see insects in the snack aisle? It’s worth recalling that as late as the 1800s, Americans considered lobsters a repulsive food source. “Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats, David Foster Wallace wrote in his 2004 Gourmet article, “Consider the Lobster.”

– Rob Jordan

Two other thoughts from the ToT to encourage insect-eating from an FAO report:

1. They’re organic.

“Edible insects from forests are an important source of protein, and unlike those from agricultural land, they are free of pesticides,” said Paul Vantomme, an FAO forestry expert, in a rep or

2. They’re healthful.

For every 100 grams of dried caterpillars, there are about 53 grams of protein, about 15 percent of fat and about 17 percent of carbohydrates. Their energy value amounts to around 430 kilocalories per 100 grams. Caterpillars are also believed to have a higher proportion of protein and fat than beef and fish with a high energy value.  

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