Christopher Ryan Ph.D.

Sex at Dawn

On Eating What Bugs You

Why poison when you can stir-fry?

Posted Mar 17, 2009

Today's Washington Post takes a look at one of the most maligned earmarks in the recently passed omnibus spending bill, which involved $1 million to kill Mormon crickets. According to the story, the ranchers of Grouse Creek, Utah, have been suffering through an invasion that has "devoured crops, frightened children and threatened families' livelihoods." So a million bucks is being spent on attempts to poison the bugs by spreading around rolled oats laced with insecticide.

You don't have to be a biologist to know that lots of things other than the targeted crickets are going to eat those poisoned oats; the ecological destruction will be broad and ugly, as always happens when we poison the entire environment trying to destroy one element of it. In any case, the effectiveness on the crickets will be low: "They have a small effect in killing them off," said Patrick D. Lorch, a biological scientist at Kent State University who studies Mormon crickets. "Honestly, there are billions of these crickets out there."

What to do?

Eat them. Right, it seems unthinkable, but why? One of the greatest strengths any individual (or culture) can have is the ability to see beyond the arbitrary framing of reality to the underlying, fundamental truths of situations. The truth is that we should be eating those damned crickets, not poisoning them and everything else (including ourselves) in a senseless, expensive, self-destructive panic.

Archaeologist David Madsen investigated the energy efficiency of foraging for Mormon crickets, which had been traditionally eaten by local native people. His group was able to collect crickets at a rate of about 18 crunchy pounds per hour. At that rate, Madsen calculates that a forager “accomplishes as much as one collecting 87 chili dogs, 49 slices of pizza, or 43 Big Macs.” 

Before you scoff at the culinary appeal of Mormon crickets, give some thought to the frightening reality lurking within a typical chili dog. Ever been to a slaughter house? Ever seen what hot dogs are made of? If not, you've got no grounds to call eating crickets gross.

Think it’s unhealthy? Think again. A hundred grams of dehydrated cricket contains 1,550mg of iron, 340mg of calcium, and 25mg of zinc — three minerals often missing in the diets of the chronic poor. Bugs are richer in minerals and healthy fats than beef or pork.

Freaked out by the exoskeleton, antennae and way too many legs? Then stick to the Turf and forget the Surf because shrimp, crabs and lobsters are all arthropods, just like grasshoppers. And they eat the nastiest of what sinks to the bottom of the ocean, so don’t talk about bugs’ disgusting diets. People all over the world eat insects. We're the odd ones in our frantic, hopeless attempts to avoid doing so.

You’ve probably got some bug parts stuck in your teeth right now. An Italian professor recently published Ecological Implications of Minilivestock: Potential of Insects, Rodents, Frogs and Snails. That's right: minilivestock!

In an article at Slate, William Saletan tells us about a company by the name of Sunrise Land Shrimp. The company’s logo says, “Mmm. That’s good Land Shrimp!” Three guesses what a Land Shrimp is.

Did we say you’ve been eating bugs? A fact sheet from the University of Ohio estimates that Americans unknowingly eat an average of between one and two pounds of insects per year. That’s a Big Bucket O’ Bugs. Extra crunchy.

We're eating them anyway. So dig in! We'll save millions of dollars, improve our health, and help the farmers of Utah, all in one fell swoop.