Many of you probably heard the old joke: “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?” The answer: “Half a worm”—implying you’ve ingested the other half of the critter.
As a culture, Americans are quite squeamish when it comes to insects, especially spiders, roaches, and earwigs. (Older people might remember the earwig story in Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” television show.) And most people certainly don’t want bugs in their foods, although I wager many of you found something in your food over the course of your life—say, a grasshopper in canned green beans. It’s unsavory and unappetizing, but at least the insect is now commercially sterile.
This is one reason why food processors are so conscientious when it comes to pest management. They want to keep flying and crawling insects out of their food plants and out of their food. What’s ironic is there’s currently a movement to incorporate insects into our diets—including crickets, mealworms, and others. Will a processor who is making mealworm powder need a pest management program? Will it be an issue if a few crickets end up with the mealworm powder? We shall see as this new industry and trend grows.
But how did this transpire? Why are we looking at bugs as a food ingredient? The answer is the environmental movement. It takes a great deal of food and water to fatten up a cow or hog for slaughter, whereas bugs grow quickly and rapidly produce biomass that’s high in protein. But really, how many people want foods made from insects? Most non-vegetarians would rather opt for a beef burger than a bug burger.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout the world, sharing foods with people in many different places. And I must admit that some of what I have been served included insects—yes, bugs were on the menu. I was served deep-fried cicadas and deep-fried scorpions in Asia. The cicadas were nice and crunchy, however, once was enough for the scorpions. Scorpions are full of formic acid, which dominated the taste.
My sense is it will be quite a while before insects make a dent in the market, although, there have been some tongue-in-cheek advertisements about insects in our food. One of the major breweries ran an ad years ago featuring a table of appetizers at a party that included a dip located under an insect electrocuter…the party-goers really liked the crispy things in the dip.