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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The United Nations suggests some six-legged additions to our diets

Should we eat more insects?
  • Natthanan Chumphookaew/
  • Should we eat more insects?
There's been a lot of buzz lately about a recent United Nations report that recommends we all eat more insects. That's mostly because, in the West, the shock factor alone is enough to make us take notice of such a publication, but it's also because the report makes a comprehensive and entirely convincing argument for bugs as a satisfying, environmentally-responsible meal choice.

The report, published this week by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, outlines the culinary facts about insects: they're readily available, they take up a fraction of the space that livestock do when farmed (yes, you can farm bugs), they're a low-carbon protein alternative to meat and poultry, and a nutritious and cheap addition to any diet, especially in countries where malnutrition is rampant. In Uganda and Zambia, the report notes, queen termites are so high in nutrients that they are commonly fed to undernourished children.

The report praises insects as "rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc" and notes that the 1,900 identified species of edible insects are already a food source for more than 2 billion people around the world, primarily in African and Asian countries. It cites stink bugs as widely sought-after in China and Thailand; edible grasshoppers as a major part of food culture in East Africa; and fried and sun-dried termites as a common snack food in many parts of the world.

So far, Americans (along with citizens of most other western nations) aren't catching on to the bugs as food idea - here, insects are typically things to be swatted and stamped on, not battered, skewered or sautéed. Our aversion to consuming six-legged creatures, according to the report, is cultural: thinking about eating insects triggers feelings of disgust in most of us, a reaction that has resulted from centuries of raising mammals - creatures who provided meat, milk, cheese, leather and wool - and eschewing comparatively useless insects.

But we may be catching on. Every several years, when hoards of cicadas descend upon the East Coast, chefs have found creative ways to turn the red-eyed onslaught into menu items. In 2004, Washington, D.C. mixologists featured cicada cocktails, which included a blend of Jack Daniel's, amaretto and cream adorned with two candied cicadas on toothpicks. This year, as Washington City Paper notes, D.C. chefs are featuring the insects, which some say taste like asparagus and others describe as buttery and nutty, in a range of options, including:

Crispy cicada taco with pan-fried, chili-dusted cicadas and pickled green mango salsa in a corn tortilla. Dessert would be a wasabi dark chocolate-covered cicada. - Ryan Fichter: Chef, Thunder Burger & Bar

"The REALLY Po' Boy" with cicadas drowned in Pabst Blue Ribbon, then beer-battered and fried on a hoagie with lettuce and mayo. Side snack: molasses kettle-corn cicadas. - Ed Hardy: Chef, Bistro Vivant

Cicadas candied with beer then lightly fried and tossed in a house-made barbecue spice blend and topped with cashews. - Ryan Fichter: Chef, Thunder Burger & Bar

The U.N. suggests "bug banquets" - an event featuring insect dishes and an educational discussion before guests dig in - as a way to ease Westerners into accepting bugs into their diets. Cicada tacos may be another way to break that psychological barrier - unfortunately for Georgians, however, this year's brood II will skip over most of the state, so you may have to travel north to sample cicada cuisine for yourself.

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