What would you say if your parents served mealworm macaroni for dinner? How about tarantula tacos, with chocolate chip cricket cookies as dessert? You might think they were pranking you, but eating insects and spiders is no joke.
The Amazon rainforest in South America is burning, and that’s partly because of cattle farming and human consumption of meat. As awareness of climate change grows, many people are working hard to find immediate and long-term solutions, including chefs and visionaries in the food industry — because one obvious and quick way to cut pollution, reduce waste and create a more sustainable future is to rethink what we eat.
In 2013, the United Nations reported that a bug-rich diet could play an important role in global health and sustainability. Sound gross? Bugs are actually tasty, and billions of humans have been feasting on them since the beginning of time. Today, more than a third of the global population regularly enjoys insects and arachnids (mainly spiders and scorpions) as food, according to the experts at Brooklyn Bugs, in Brooklyn, New York. The organization aims to change the way many Americans think of creepy-crawly things on our plates, in our mouths and in our bellies.
“We all need to redefine what we think of as food,” says Joseph Yoon, executive director of Brooklyn Bugs. Yoon has been crisscrossing the nation enticing students, educators and cafeteria staff to embrace edible insects. He is asking them to consider, with all the environmental and health benefits bugs deliver, why we’re not eating them already. Yoon says eating insects is like eating any other food. Because we’re not used to preparing them or seeing them on menus, he says, many Americans may perceive bugs as revolting. But when sampled in familiar, delicious dishes, views often change.
With more than 2,000 types of edible creatures identified — including flies, bees, spiders and caterpillars, each with distinctive textures and flavors — where do you start? Here, Yoon shares three popular bugs for kids:
●Crickets: Like all insects, these great hoppers use far less water, feed and space than cattle and other larger sources of protein. Thanks to budding popularity, energy bars, chocolate balls, chips, pasta, flour and more made from crickets are widely available online and in specialty stores. These bugs even come in cotton-candy flavor.
●Mealworms: A mealworm is actually the larva of a beetle, and, yucky as that may sound, they’re yummy! What do they taste like? It depends on how they’re prepared. When roasted or baked, they have a nutty flavor. According to the growers at Livin Farms, many compare mealworms to sunflower seeds, peanuts or pumpkin seeds.
●Black ants: These little guys’ zesty, citrusy flavor is surprising. “It’s like popping a [lemon hard candy] in your mouth,” says Yoon, with delight.
Nutritionally insects are powerhouses, containing about the same amount of protein as beans, meat or fish, ounce for ounce, as well as essential fatty acids, important fiber (not usually found in meat), and loads of healthy vitamins and minerals.
If that’s not enough to persuade you to try a plate of environmentally friendly fried dragonflies, or a handful of chocolate-coated spiders, consider this: Like shellfish, insects and arachnids are arthropods, so if you enjoy shrimp, crab or lobster, you’re already eating their relatives from the sea. But insects therefore share some common food allergens with shellfish, too, so be sure to seek the advice of your doctor before eating any bugs if food allergies are a concern.
For buggy recipes and inspiration, check out the Brooklyn Bugs Instagram feed, the Smithsonian series Bug Bites or an insect cookbook. But first, as with any other food, be sure to get your bugs from reputable farms or providers — not your local park!