Let’s Eat Bugs!

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The thought of creepy-crawly guests at a picnic gives many people the shivers, but someday insects could be the main course.

The practice of bug eating is as old as human survival. It can be traced back to the Stone Age and existed in biblical times. While insect dishes aren’t necessarily appealing to most people, a surprising number of bugs are consumed every day, and not by accident or on a dare.

In many parts of the world, eating bugs has become somewhat of a delicacy, from bee larvae with soy sauce served in Japan to fried caterpillars dished up in Africa. These delicacies are gradually making their way to North America, where tacos stuffed with grasshoppers have already become popular in at least one upscale dining spot in Washington, D.C.

The consumption of insects is called entomophagy, and it is a common part of many different cultures. By one estimate, around half of the people in the world currently eat any number of biting, flying and crawling creatures. These insects not only taste delicious, they are nutritious and inexpensive, too.

Of the 800,000 identified bugs on the planet, around 1,500 of those make it into the human diet. Cicadas in Mexico; water bugs and silkworms in Thailand; ants in France … the list goes on. And the methods of preparation demonstrate a high level of culinary creativity.

Fried scorpions served on shrimp toast, locust scampi, stir fried grasshoppers, shoestring potatoes sprinkled with Changai Mountain ants … these are just a few main courses to try. For dessert, you might enjoy grape-flavored cricket lollipops or chocolate-coated ants. The possibilities are endless.

Although most of us don’t make insects a menu item on purpose, in the not-sp-distant future, it’s believed that insects might actually be raised as an alternative protein source. As Dutch entomology professor Marcel Dicke explained in a recent TED talk, “Give a cow 10 pounds of feed and you get 1 pound of beef. Give crickets 10 pounds of feed and you get 9 pounds of cricket.”

Gradually, more people are becoming brave enough to try an insect dish. Kids are learning more about bugs, and how they can play a role in improving the environment by being used as a food source. Adults are watching television shows like “Survivor,” where bugs are ingested regularly.

Attitudes towards insects won’t change overnight. It may take a little time to get past the “ick” factor. But it’s a good bet that more and more bugs will be making it to the dinner table in the years ahead … love them or not.

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