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August 2018 Edition
Who In Their Right Mind Would Eat Bugs?
Aly Moore, Founder of Bugible and EatBugsEvents.com
Who in their right mind would eat bugs? Many western cultures have developed a strong stigma against eating bugs. We think bugs are gross pests. Or we think bugs are scary.
Today, however, we are going to learn about the wonderful world of edible bugs. We’re going to talk about how and why 2 billion people in the world eat bugs - and have been for hundreds of years. People in cultures like America have only just begun to explore the sustainable and nutritious benefits of eating bugs
If we want a future where we get healthy food in a way that is good for the environment, we need the voices of the next generation to help educate society about innovations like this.
Let’s take a minute to think about what “edible food” is. Whether or not something is edible is subjective - meaning not everybody agrees. What we define as “food” depends on how we are raised, what our friends eat, and where we live. Some people eat orange peels - you might think that’s gross, but the orange peels actually contain the most nutrients in the fruit.
In a broader example, let’s look at sushi. Back in the 1960’s, sushi was considered barbaric. We couldn’t understand why people would eat raw fish. Slowly but surely, more businessmen from Japan started doing business in California. They started requesting sushi, but we were not sold. Then, a clever chef introduced the California Roll. He disguised the fish in rolls of rice and avocado, making the dish less intimidating for Americans. Photographs emerged of celebrities eating this new dish and it went from being barbaric to trendy. Now we can’t get enough of it!
It is my hope that bugs will take a similar path. But we have to take a few steps to get there. One of the biggest factors is the name - we don’t eat raw fish, we eat sushi. We don’t eat cows, we eat beef. We don’t even necessarily eat plants, we eat vegetables. We might need a better name for bugs that we eat.
We want to break down those biases and prior assumptions that a lot of people have about bugs. Many folks look at bugs and imagine a scene from The Lion King - the one where Timon and Pumbaa are chowing down on grubs and say, “Slimy, yet satisfying!” as they slurp up the last worm. Many expect to bite into a bug and get a burst of slimy guts.
That’s not the case at all. In fact, many bugs today are dried and taste more like peanuts or sunflower seeds. Or they come in a ground-up protein powder form.
We can also use foods that people are more comfortable with to explain how bugs taste. Did you know that scorpions and crabs are both arthropods? They are more similar than they are different. In fact, lobsters and crabs and shrimp are just the bugs of the ocean! Lobsters are quite scary when you think about it - bigger than bugs and with giant claws - but they are not scary to us because they have been on our dinner tables for many years. You can think of scorpions as little land lobsters. Or as locusts as flying shrimp.
That brings us to the question of the day: How do bugs taste? There are over 2,000 species of edible bugs, and many more to be discovered! They all have unique, beautiful flavor profiles just waiting to be explored!
Imagine that you have a friend who is an artist. She paints beautiful pictures, but only uses red, pink, and yellow. She can make lovely paintings, but one day you show her the other rainbow of colors that exist - the blues, greens, purples, oranges, silvers, and more. Now she can make even more vivid paintings.
That’s where we are in the culinary world. We have a huge range of raw ingredients that chefs use, but there are rainbows of additional flavors to explore with bugs! And bugs can be tasty.
The top restaurant in the world, Noma, has made use of bugs for many years on their menu. Fancy restaurants in France serve up snails - or escargot. You’ve been eating bugs all along and haven’t know it too! Processed foods are allowed to contain certain levels of bugs (it’s unavoidable in food packing facilities.) The foods with the highest amounts of bugs are peanut butter, ketchup, and chocolate bars. They are probably more nutritious because of the bugs.
Here’s another fun fact: Bugs are small enough that the quite literally are what they eat. If you have some crickets and feed them mint, they will have a minty flavor. If you feed your crickets banana, they will adopt a banana flavor. If you feed your crickets carrots, they will turn orange! There is so much we have to explore with bugs and we are just at the very beginning.
Some put bugs into three unofficial flavor categories. The first nutty and earthy. Crickets and mealworms are examples of bugs that taste a little like seeds, nuts, or mushrooms. The second is fishy and seafood-like. Locusts and scorpions are examples of bugs that have been compared to crab. The third is meaty and savory. Sago grubs are often called the bacon of the bug world.
Instead of asking why we eat bugs, we should be asking why not?
Bugs are easier on the environment than traditional protein sources, packed with nutrition, and can taste great. They are not the only solution to sustainably feed our growing population, but they are the most provocative. And they open a dialogue about how what we eat impacts our bodies and our environment.
There’s a reason why 80% of the world’s countries have been eating bugs for thousands of years. Choose any food enviro-metric you’d like: gallons of water, Co2 equivalents of greenhouse gases, acres of land, feed-conversion-ratio comparisons, you name it. Bugs come out ahead of traditional livestock like beef. Bugs are cold blooded, meaning they don't waste energy converting feed into body heat. Bugs take 12x less food than cows, produce 100x less Co2, take 1000x less water to raise, and can be grown anywhere.
Not only are bugs healthy for the environment, but they are packed with nutrients for us as well. The nutrients of bugs vary depending on the species and on what they are fed. But as an example, if we compare 100g of crickets to 100g of beef, we might find the cricket has 2 to 3 times more protein, more calcium, more iron, more vitamin a, more fiber, potassium, and an ideal omega 3 to 6 ratio, and all 9 essential amino acids. Bugs are gluten free. They are about 60% protein.
Part of the reason bugs pack such a nutritious punch is because we eat the whole critter, unlike a rib of a cow, for example. Things like the bugs’ exoskeletons are rich in micronutrients like vitamin B12.
My name is Aly Moore, and I eat bugs. I’ve been working since 2012 to get folks to open their minds and mouths … to try some bugs! My favorite quote is, “A mind is like a parachute - it functions only when open.” You can find more information on eatbugsevents.com
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