Who wants bugs for lunch?

How would you like some bee vomit on your rolls at dinner tonight? Or maybe some curdled milk on your burger? Doesn't sound too good when you put it that way, but it's not as bad as it seems.

Bees collect nectar and carry it in their stomachs back to the hive. Then they regurgitate it into honeycombs to make honey. Cheese is actually milk that has been curdled and aged in special ways. We're so used to eating honey and cheese we don't worry about where it comes from or how it's made. But in some cultures around the world, the idea of eating curdled milk sounds awful. In some cultures, they would rather eat bugs.

What people eat in different parts of the world depends partly on what foods are available. It also depends on what people are used to eating. In the United States, the idea of eating raw fish used to be out of the question. Now sushi restaurants are commonplace.

To India's Hindus, cows are sacred. The idea of eating one is unthinkable to them. In China, fried scorpions are popular in some regions. But in parts of southern Africa, they think eating scorpions is really gross. They'd rather eat termites.

Many insects are very nutritious food sources. No one wants to eat bugs like flies, which hang around garbage dumps. But other, cleaner insects have more protein than the meats we're used to eating. Insects have been very important food sources for people.

William Brewer, a professor of agriculture, visited Mono Lake (on the California-Nevada border) back in 1863. There he observed vast numbers of a fly pupae (the development stage between larva and adult) washed ashore. The local Paiute tribes called them kutsavi.

Mr. Brewer observed the Paiutes gathering hundreds of bushels of kutsavi by the shore. They were spread out to dry in the sun. Then the shells were rubbed off, leaving a small yellow grain like rice. Brewer reported: "The Indians gave me some; it does not taste bad, and if one were ignorant of its origin, it would make fine soup. Gulls, ducks, snipe, frogs, and Indians fatten on it."

The peoples who lived around the Great Salt Lake in Utah thrived on insects. Sometimes, great swarms of grasshoppers would be blown into the lake and drown. When they washed ashore and dried in the sun, natives would gather hundreds of pounds of them. They could be ground into a flour and made into bread, which could also be sweetened with berries and wild currants. This bread could feed families for weeks. Early settlers who came through the area called it "desert fruitcake."

In Algeria, in North Africa, people used to collect large numbers of desert locusts for food. They would even trade them in the markets. In Australia, the Aborigines used to come together at the Bogong Mountains to feast on Bogong moths. They would gather the moths in huge numbers from cave floors or in rock crevices. After the moths were cooked, the wings, legs, and heads were removed. Sometimes they ground them into paste and made cakes!

TODAY, insects are still used as food in many cultures. In Nigeria, termites are roasted over a fire or fried in a pot. Crickets, too, although some there consider it childish to eat them.

A Mexican entomologist calculates that there are 441 types of insects eaten regularly around the world.

In Japan, several insect dishes are offered in restaurants, including inago (fried rice-field grasshoppers), and sangi (fried silk-moth pupae). The silk moths are byproducts of the silk industry.

Insects have been eaten in Japan since ancient times. The country has a relatively large number of people and, for thousands of years, had very few sources of animal protein. Insects became very important as a food source. Now a wide variety of other foods are imported from other areas. But it took the Japanese a while to get used to eating strange (to them) new foods. The Japanese accepted hamburgers a lot faster than Americans accepted sushi, however.

Will Americans ever enjoy eating bugs? Probably not. We have so many other foods that we don't have to get used to something that sounds pretty yucky. But insect foods are available here, even if they're mostly a novelty. You can buy chocolate-covered crickets from Fluker Farms in Baton Rouge, La., which has supplied "feeder insects" to zoos for years (www.flukerfarms.com/explore.htm click on the "I ate a bug" club button).

The Food Insects Newsletter provides all kinds of information about raising, purchasing, and cooking insects (www.hollowtop.com/finl_html/finl.html). The University of Kentucky Department of Entomology (the study of insects) offers a Web site filled with suggestions for classroom activities about using insects for food (www.uky.edu/Agriculture/Entomology/ythfacts/bugfun/collecti.htm Click on "Bugfood!").

Interest in eating insects is growing in the US, but not too quickly. We're still getting used to things like pineapple pizza.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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