Western agriculture is on the wrong side of history. Without confiscating this practical discussion to bemoan the use of pesticides, herbicides, or mono-crops, we know that our broken food system has made us a very sick nation with only food insecurity and a dying planet to bequeath to our children and grandchildren. You don’t read the PrepperProject.com to hear what is wrong with the world; you read this site to get practical tips on changing it for your family. But before we move forward, you need to challenge one deeply ingrained cultural perception you may never have questioned before: entomogaphy, or the consumption of insects as a viable food source. While 113 nations (out of approximately 200 countries in existence) proudly crunch down on their local farm-to-fork insect cuisine (Elorduy, p. 15), even more—including the United States–consumes insects unwittingly every day via the food industry. For a rip-roaring good time, read the FDA’s Defects Level Handbook to determine just how many insects are already sliding down your throat on pasta night.
If you are brave enough to question yourself, we shall investigate the subconscious objections to bug-to-bowl dining:
Objection #1: Insects as Enemy
Ancient cultures and well-established ones alike enjoy a good buggy crunch, but America has been an agricultural nation since its infancy and is squirmish in the entomogaphy department. DeFoliart, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told National Geographic that he believes one reason for our insect aversion is because of the European transition from foragers to grain harvesters (see both: Guynup & Itterbeeck). What was once a food source had become our nemesis, standing between ourselves and crops.
This insect-as-adversary carries over in damaging ways to our modern culture extending well beyond the farmer’s field today. Every hardware store, grocery store, and even convenient store peddles toxic chemicals so people can avoid the inconvenient existence of arthropods. Hey, I killed a spider in my home just an hour ago; and although I did not use chemicals, I did not relocate him to my garden nor did I heat up a skillet for a little afternoon snack. So yeah, I think we can agree with Dr. DeFoliart that to broaden our culinary horizons, we will have to reframe how we seen an entire subset of God’s creation.
In permaculture, it is assumed that everything has a certain usefulness in the proper place and dimension. In an ideal food production setting, you let nature work for you by encouraging “closed loop cycles.” This means that if worms are in your cherries, you put the ducks under the tree.
- The ducks get the worms.
- The tree gets fertilized.
- The cherries no longer have worms.
- You get cherries, eggs, and meat.
And that, friends, was my own personal permaculturally-based solution to my wormy-cherry problem. I do not want the worm in my cherry, but I have come to appreciate the worm itself. It isn’t that the worm was the enemy; it was that things were out of balance. All insects have their usefulness. And, it just so happens that where humans are natural predators of insects, those insect populations remain in check.
Objection #2: Insects as Unclean
Well, insects are unclean. The flies circle the manure pile and then land on my baked beans…nasty. Blood-sucking insects spread disease to humans and cattle. Some insects can lead to parasite-diseases in humans, too. Mites and microscopic insects lead to skin rashes and allergies. So yes, this objection is quite valid on the surface. But just as every berry is not edible nor every mushroom, neither is every insect good for you. Although the ones I mentioned above are not edible, it might surprise you that most insects are indeed fair game. This is still an area for study, but the last count I have read is that there are 1,400 varieties for your next buffet. To get a complete list as compiled by the Department of Entomology of Wageningen University, the Netherlands, be sure to check out this document compiled in 2015.
Varieties aside, the biggest concern is what the insects have been eating. If you are pulling the worms off of your tomato plants, they are just as clean as the tomato itself; if you spray your garden, your insects will be spreading that to you in the same way your tomatoes will. Many insects are “cleaner” than animals we routinely eat now; yes, a cockroach (properly raised) is cleaner than the average chicken. Just don’t invite me over if cockroach is on your menu, thank you very much.
Objection #3: Insects as Disgusting
Presentation is everything on this one. If you can bury the bugs into the meal in such a way that you forget them, you’ve hit a winning recipe. Meal worm larvae tacos have a slightly porky flavor, a delicate crunch, and are nearly indistinguishable from any other taco. Soups, stews, and casseroles will be great beginner-fare. Your food processor is your friend.
Sure, the Chinese like to display their insects proudly on skewers, but we’re taking baby steps, here.
Online sources for meal worm larvae and other edible insects abound. There are also start-up specialty packaged foods such as flavored chips. Insect flour is both a traditional way to consume them in many countries, and it is a simple way to start without fighting the slime-factor or the scratchy-leg-factor. Because yes, those are indeed factors. If you want to make your own flour, roast your insects at a low heat for about 3 hours until crisp, and then pulse in your food processor; it’s much, much cheaper to make this delicacy yourself.
Objection #4: Insects as Unknown Cuisine
This is my objection. Well, I secretly harbored a few of the others but I’m coming around. Let’s face it, there is a serious intimidation rising up in you at the practical level on this challenge. How do you source the insects? How do you hide this from your family so they’ll actually eat dinner? How do you cook them in such a way as to enjoy it?
But then again, you’ve faced intimidation head-on before and you have won—like the time you decided to learn how to use that pressure canner, or the time you brought livestock home for the first time. At Pantry Paratus, we are known for taking the intimidation out of lost kitchen skills like bread baking and food preservation, and yet….I’m not going to be much help to you on this one. This is not a skill I have yet myself. I do, however, surround myself with encouraging people who lead me forward. One such friend, Scott Booth, had this to say:
“I’ve found that the best way to include insects into the diet is to cook them briefly, but not so much that you lose the fat and nutrient contents, then crush them into a paste or meal and add them to a soup or stew. The taste and texture will usually be covered by the other ingredients, yet still add nutrition to the overall dish. Much more palatable than eating them raw or whole at least. Just don’t look at your spoon very carefully.”
Even yet, he highlighted the joys of broadened horizons, explaining in great detail to me the various flavors and textures available in this underworld. I realized that indeed, we are missing out on timeless, traditional food that has enriched cultures, nourished families, and provided balance to ecosystems since the beginning of the human race.
Facing another challenge head-on,
Do you have experiences with edible insects? Have you learned some tips to share with us? Please leave a comment!
Elorduy, J., & Menzel, P. (1998). Creepy crawly cuisine: The gourmet guide to edible insects. Inner Traditions.
Guynup, S., & Ruggia, N. (2004, July 15). For Most People, Eating Bugs Is Only Natural. Retrieved July 25, 2015 from National Geographic Society.