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 V.21 No.44 | November 1 - 7, 2012 

The Mouthful

Girl Eats Bugs

Daniella Martin, internet entomophage

Martin and a scorpion snack
Daniella Martin
Martin and a scorpion snack

You’d be hard pressed to find a more adventurous gourmand than Daniella Martin. She’s the writer of the Girl Meets Bug blog, which chronicles her expansive interest in insects and arthropods—and her passion for eating them. Martin has fried up scorpions, sautéed bee larvae and wrapped up wax worms in a soft taco, all on her way to becoming one of the most charismatic proponents of entomophagy, the practice of eating bugs. She says it’s an ecologically responsible and often delicious choice.

I asked Martin over email about the origins of her passion, her favorite recipe and which bugs she thinks a first-time entomophag should start with.

How did you start eating bugs?

The first bug I ever ate was in Oaxaca, Mexico. For my degree in anthropology, I'd been studying pre-Columbian nutrition. Prior to Columbus' arrival, there wasn't a lot of large game in this region, but the Aztecs and Mayans still got plenty of protein because they ate everything that ran, swam, flew or crawled across their landscape.

When I got to Oaxaca ... I bought chapulines, grasshoppers toasted with chile and lime, from a street vendor, which I wound up sharing with a group of enthusiastic Mayan kids.

I'd always wanted to share what I'd learned about edible insects in college, so I decided to start a blog. I thought it would help people to see a woman cooking and enjoying insects, since women in our society are generally assumed to be bug-phobic.

I've always believed in cultural preservation and in thinking outside the box, valuing the undervalued and acknowledging the overlooked. Eating insects makes sense to me on so many levels.

Why do you think more people should eat bugs?

For one thing, we've been doing it since before we were human. Eating insects literally predates us. As primates, our species has been depending on insects for protein, fat and calories throughout our evolution. It is only in this most recent slice of history (and in this geographical region) that we've stopped. In many parts of the world, it’s still considered normal, just as it has been for millennia.

Besides that, insects are a clean, sustainable, efficient way to raise nutritious animal protein. They taste good and are good for you, so why NOT eat them?

Most importantly, edible insects could be a potential help for world hunger: They are cheap, easy to raise and high in protein, which is a key factor of malnutrition.

Why do you think Americans are usually so unwilling to eat insects and other land-based arthropods?

It's just not a part of our culture. Native Americans were happily eating insects before we got here. Our culture stems from a place and time where insects were likely not abundant enough to be considered worth eating; a place heavily influenced by the Bible, which for the most part forbade the eating of insects. Interestingly, the Bible did sanction the eating of certain species such as locusts (John The Baptist, anyone?), and while other "forbidden foods" have made it onto our plates, somehow insects haven't made the cut yet.

Our culture, practically from birth, drills it into our heads that all insects except for butterflies and ladybugs are somehow bad, dirty, dangerous or gross. Despite the fact that the FDA allows for insect fragments in all of our processed foods, we operate on the deeply held belief that insects aren't safe. The truth is that only a tiny percentage of the millions of species that exist could be harmful to humans. It's a bummer, really.

I hate it when people make blanket statements like, "I hate bugs." Bugs are not only responsible for important aspects of our evolution, they help make our food, get rid of our garbage, and essentially make the ecology go 'round.

Do you recommend a "starter bug" for someone who may be a little squeamish?

The tastiest gateway bug is probably the wax moth larva. In the wild, these caterpillars parasitize bee hives, eating honey and pollen and generally making a nuisance of themselves to bees and beekeepers alike. However, raised in captivity they eat bran and honey.

Sautéed, they taste like almond-y mushrooms; toasted, like crispy, hollow pine nuts.

My favorite recipe is probably toasted wax worms. Sprinkled with a little salt and sugar, they are good on pretty much anything—even ice cream.

Any bug-cooking tips?

In general, insects are good either sautéed like shrimp, or toasted like nuts. Most are good fried, too. But then, what isn't?

 

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