What’s All This Buzz About Eating Insects?

Here at Booming Encore we put great emphasis on informing our readers and viewers. How great, you ask? Well, we think you are so important that we will even eat crickets, spiced mealworms, roasted locusts, ant candy, and scorpion lollipops to report back to you.

Experts in futurism believe insects will become a major food source for all of the world’s growing population. And there are a lot of insects. Of the 1.1 million different types of insects that scientists have identified, about 1,700 are edible.

The problem is many people, especially in America, Canada, and Europe, become queasy at the thought of adding insects to their diets.

So, what is it really like to dine on crunchy, cooked insects for lunch?

Here is my first-person report:

The two young women, dressed in fashionable Washington, D.C. office attire, looked down at the red cloth napkin being held in front of them. The napkin contained today’s featured appetizers – Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, roasted crickets, and roasted locusts.

“How do they taste?” one of the women asked, making a face. “Are they yucky?”

“No, they are really crispy. And salty,” the man replied, slipping a small handful of insects into his mouth.

Such conversations were the order of the day at the Occidental Seafood and Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington, D.C., which was serving as the site of a three-hour, pop-up Pestaurant offering a menu consisting entirely of cooked insects.

The event, which was titled “Pestaurant on Pennsey,” was sponsored by Erlich, a DC-area pest control company. The first Pestaurant event was held last year in London. This year, the DC lunch at the Occidental was one of 12 locations around the globe that were offering one-day insect dining.

Company officials said a major reason for the worldwide event was to try to make bugs and insects a little more appetizing to the general public. A report from the United Nations called consumer disgust “one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”.

It also named “insect farming” as a potential way to “address food and feed insecurity” across the world.
On the savory insect table, the wait staff was serving roasted crickets, Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, buffalo worms, and roasted locusts. On the sweet table, the offerings included scorpion lollipops, chocolate ant rounds, ant candy, and ant, cricket, and mealworm lollipops.

But, by far, the biggest culinary hit of the afternoon was the tasty grasshopper burgers created by Occidental executive chef Rodney Scruggs. Scruggs said his burgers were a combination of turkey, grasshopper, and a secret ingredient. “You always have to have a secret ingredient,” he joked. He explained that the grasshoppers used in the burgers reminded him of dry mushrooms. “I could see them pairing well with a really old wine,” the chef said. He explained that after much consultation with is staff, dried grasshoppers were added to give the burger “a little extra crunch.” adding that since grasshoppers are a staple south of the border, he topped his creation off with a special salsa.

Chirping About a Cricket Contest 

Arriving at the event, I had intended to eat a few bugs, leave, and write about it. But then I saw the sign.

“Next … Cricket Eating Competition 1:15 p.m. Your participation is a $20 donation to DC Central Kitchen. Win Prizes.”

It really didn’t take a lot of consideration. I had already downed a grasshopper burger and two big helpings of savory bugs, so I had no aversion to adding crickets to the list. I think DC Central Kitchen is one of the city’s best charities, so that was attractive. And while I would be a newbie to the world of competitive cricket eating, I did have some experience in related fields. As a young reporter doing a first-person story, I had been the July 4th South Jersey watermelon seed spitting champion back in the 1980s for all of two hours until my record was broken.  And, since retiring to DC, I had blogged about the 2012 July 4th Z-Burger battle bash.

As I finished the last bites of my grasshopper burger, I told my wife to sign me up.

I took my seat at the table with about 20 other competitors. On my right was a legislative aide from Capitol Hill. On my left was a young Environmental Protection Agency worker.  Both gave me some cause for concern. I mean who knows more about bugging than the government? And the EPA deals directly with environmental pests. But I actually thought my toughest competition might come from the recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who said he loved to compete in eating contests.

The head judge, who came all the way from England (or at least had a British accent) gave the directions. They seemed simple enough. We would each be handed three small cups of dried crickets. The winner would be the person who downed all three cups the quickest. If any crickets spilled on the table, you would have to consume those, too. You would have to raise your hand and then open your mouth to prove that all the insects had been completely swallowed. You couldn’t drink anything while eating.

The judge asked if we were ready. We all nodded. “Alright begin,” he said.

I learned quite a bit about cricket consuming in the next three minutes. First, there are almost as many ways of eating crickets in a cricket-eating competition as there are cricket eaters. There is the dainty, grab one-by-one style. There is the two-handed, two-cup plunge. There is the dump-the-whole-cup down-at-once and then try to swallow method.

Then, there are the faces of the contestants. They are both interesting and distracting. In fact, I became more interested in watching the faces than I did in eating. Or at least that is what I told myself. Actually, I realized after my first cup of crickets that I wasn’t cut out for hard-core cricket chomping and chewing. I did manage to down a second cup, but by that time the winner had long finished and I was battling for a fifth place finish I really didn’t have the stomach for.

But even though I emerged beaten, I was not downhearted for long. A few steps away was the perfect cure for taking the sting out of a lost bug battle – I grabbed another of Chef Scruggs’ tasty grasshopper burgers. However, first I downed two glasses of water and a Coke. For if I had learned nothing else, I now knew that cricket eating is the saltiest work this side of competitive salt-shaker downing. And I think, after my cricket eating debut, I will pass on the salt.

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