Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rustling Up Some Grubs at the Austin Bug-Eating Festival

Published in the Sun July 6, 2013

Alan Davisson sautés up some insects

“Does anyone want to eat the baby cockroach that was inside that other cockroach?”  It’s 107 degrees in Zilker Park, but Alan Davisson has his fryng pans hot and is sautéing insects at the 6th Annual Bug-Eating Festival.  I can’t even get close enough to see the baby cockroach, much less eat it, because of the crowd of curious bug-eaters.  Alan goes on to explain to the kids in the group, “All of my heroes are weird.  They all changed the world because they did something weird.”  We can all pretty much agree that Alan is weird.


He redeems himself somewhat and admits that he doesn’t like to eat cockroaches, because they just taste like cockroaches.  The best insects to eat, according to Alan, are grubs and larvae, because they don’t have shells and legs.  They are however filled with dirt, so to properly prepare a grub you have to cut off the head, slit it up the side and wash it in water to remove all the brown stuff.  When cooked up, the fat solidifies and the grub is more meaty, like bacon.  Yumm.


A table behind the throng of Alan’s on-lookers holds the mealworms he cooked up before moving on to cockroaches.  Some are Cajun-flavored and some are plain.  A sign on the table warns people with shellfish allergies not to eat them, as shellfish and insects contain similar allergens.  A man standing beside me apologizes that he has a shellfish allergy and won’t be able to partake.  “Sure you do,” I snark back.  His friend elbows him, “Dude, she knows you’re lying,” and we all laugh.  But I have come here to eat bugs so I might as well get on with it.  Grabbing one of the bigger mealworms I take a tentative bite.  It’s kind of crunchy with a non-descript flavor, so I pretend it’s a chow mein noodle and finish it off.  I use the same technique with a wasp larva.  Really, they are so small that a tiny bite is much ado about nothing, once you get past the yuck factor.

Jeffrey Stump contemplates a mealworm

Marjory Wildcraft, who put this bug-eating event together, checks to see if I’m having a good time.  Marjory has been called the “Martha Stewart of Self-Reliance.”  Her business is teaching people to grow their own food in backyard gardens.  I asked her how she got interested in bug-eating.  She explains that there are certain fats and minerals that are hard to get if a person is really trying to grow all their nourishment.  She noticed in her own garden that insects were a constant, and annoying, presence, and thought, “Why don’t I try eating bugs?”  Just one little problem, “They are disgusting.”  So she got a few friends together for moral support, and after three beers to lubricate the system, she was ready to eat bugs.  That was the first Bug-Eating Festival, and it multiplied from there.


A discerning reader at this point would be asking, “Why on earth are we talking about eating insects?  What’s the point of this insanity?”


Entomophagy, which is Greek for “eating insects”, has always been common in traditional societies.  Beetles and caterpillars are the most popular food bugs, but over 1900 species have been used for food.  Some people think that entomophagy may spread to developed cultures as populations continue to increase.  A recent United Nations report reminds us that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on earth.  There are only 7 billion of us right now, but already one billion are chronically hungry.  Turning more forests into farmland for pigs and cattle is problematic, and ocean fisheries are already in serious decline.  Insects are a sustainable source of protein, and they can be farmed efficiently using less land and less water than mammals, and are frequently fed with biowaste.


Continuing my tour around the festival, I tried a chocolate chip cookie made with mealworm flour, which was fairly tasty, although with enough chocolate almost anything is edible.  Getting braver, I tried an ant lion that Alan had just served up.  It was way too crunchy and got stuck in my teeth.  Seriously I had to rinse my mouth out when I got back to the truck and spit it out.  Mealworms and wasp larvae might be okay in an emergency, but avoid ant lions.  We really need to take better care of those ocean fisheries.
Sunny Greenblum, age 7, eats a chocolate covered mealworm

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