Bug-Eating Ladies Speak Out for Insect Cuisine
You never forget the first bug you eat. In fact, it seems just like yesterday to Daniella Martin.
“It was 10 years ago when I was getting my anthropology degree and studying pre-Columbian food in the Yucatan region of Mexico,” Martin reminisced to AOL News.
Back before Christopher Columbus’ arrival, the amount of big game in that area was very small, so the locals relied on insects for their protein in bugged-out dishes like “chapulines,” a tasty treat from the Mexican state of Oaxaca that combines dry-roasted grasshoppers with lime and chile.
“I actually was in Oaxaca and, as a lark, I purchased a small bag of chapulines,” she said. “I started eating them and was immediately surrounded by street kids eating off my table.”
This might have bugged some people, but Martin found it to be a wonderful form of cultural immersion and it put a bee in her bonnet about the concept of insects as food.
“There is no shortage of good logical science behind the idea of insects as food,” she said. “They’re a good source for animal protein and can be easily implemented in regions where it’s hard to grow crops.
“However, insects have terrible PR — they need rebranding!”
Martin is hoping to do just that by becoming “an edible insect advocate.”
One of her projects is Girl Meets Bug, a website where she offers cooking tips on the proper way to prepare larva tacos. She is also part of a loose-knit cricket-eating collective of women who are trying show that bug eating isn’t exclusive to 8-year-old boys daring each other on the playground.
“People in America have a knee-jerk reaction to bugs; they’re beneath contempt,” she said. “Women especially are seen as squeamish of insects, but if you see a woman enjoying them, it changes that perception.”
Martin sees four reasons women especially should be eating bugs: They are easy to prepare; they’re cleaner than most meat; they’re already in most processed foods anyway; and, most important, they taste great.
“I use cricket flour when I’m baking, and wax worms are especially good in stir fries,” she said. “When I do cooking demonstrations, if people smell the food and taste it, I have a 75 percent conversion rate — and not a single bug left.”
Even better: Eating insects is not a deal breaker with the guys she’s met.
“It’s never a deterrent, even when I bring it up on the first date,” she said.
Designer Rosanna Yau is another woman who has designs on getting Americans — especially American women — to eat more bugs and did a thesis on whether elements such as branding or packaging would make the concept more palatable.
“The biggest challenge is identifying a cultural identity with a product,” she said. “Do people identify with insects? How do the people likely to eat insects see themselves? As foodies? As adventurous?”
Right now, the biggest markets for boosting bug-eating are “first adopting foodies,” the folks most likely to jump on something that seems new or different, and people who are familiar with ethnic cultures where insects are eaten.
People like Yau herself.
“Chinese people eat weird food all the time,” she said with a laugh. “Once in Thailand, my family ordered a plate of scorpions. I only got a bite because they were devoured by my little brother and sister.”
However, many Americans are squeamish about eating bugs, especially the women that Yau says need to be reached if they are to become as common as sushi on the cultural menu.
“There’s a stereotype that girls are freaked out by bugs,” she said. “But I didn’t see that as the case when I did cooking demos with mealworm cookies and chocolate-covered insects. What I saw that the moms would drag the kids away.”
Yau has theorized about creating brands for foods, such as “Opoda,” which is an offshoot of the word “arthropod,” the word for creatures with crunchy exoskeletons, and experimenting with transparent packaging that would let people the product, but admits that we may be a few decades from converting the populous into insectivores.
“The question is now, how do you sell something that people aren’t sure they want?”
Dianne Guilfoyle may have the answer: by having it provide a solution for problems presented by other products on the market.
Guilfoyle is working on Bug Muscle, a nutritional supplement for bodybuilders made from the phylum of various bugs.
“The exact amount of bugs can differ, but it’s 80 percent crickets and grasshoppers,” she said.
The product’s patent is still pending, but Guilfoyle is confident that Bug Muscle will muscle its way onto the market by the end of the year, mainly because her target market — bodybuilders and cage fighters — is looking for something different than what is on the market.
“It’s an alternative to products that are made with whey or soy, which can cause man boobs,” she said.
Because athletes can set trends in fashion and food, Guilfoyle says this market is the key to making bug-eating mainstream — and that eating insects is a necessary part of our future.
“Look at the impact farms have on ecosystems,” she said. “Insects have much less. As the population increases, we will have to rely on insects for our diet.”
Martin, Yau and Guilfoyle are hoping to get their fellow Americans to eat bugs, but Martin says the group whose support will help the most may be the folks who don’t eat meat at all.
“Vegetarians aren’t excited about people eating bugs any more than any other kind of living animal,” Martin admitted. “However, if we can create an alternative market for the insects that destroy the most crops, we will use less pesticides.”