Overcoming the Ick Factor

My husband and I were deep in the golden triangle of Thailand. We had been hiking for most of the day. It was hot and we were sweaty. And with growling intestines, we were eagerly awaiting a meal of very authentic Thai food.

The Governor

The Governor

I hadn’t anticipated the meal that was presented to me – a great bowl of black beetles with chile and lime. Of course, I’m a sucker for chile and lime but I quickly allowed my sometimes vegan tendencies to exert themselves. “Um, no thank you.”

That was 20 years ago yet should the same scenario repeat itself today, I’m not likely to have a different reaction. In theory, it’s fine. If I can’t recognize it, I’m not bothered. But, hand me a six-legged creature that is readily identifiable and I back peddle like a fickle four year old with brussel sprouts.

Around the globe, more than 2 billion people consume insects as part of their daily diet and the UN recently released a study urging the rest of us to consider the practice in the face of growing population and scarce food supplies. Why? Because many of them are chock full of fiber, good fat, minerals and protein. The practice is known as entomophagy and it is practiced widely as it has been for centuries. Here are a few reasons that we ought to conquer the ick factor:

1. This is a way to reduce pest insects without using pesticides.

2. Harvesting insects can potentially create jobs where none were before.

3. I’ve already mentioned the protein, vitamins and minerals of insects.

4. Raising and harvesting insects require less natural resources than do mammals.

5. Insects emit fewer greenhouse gases than their four-legged counterparts.

A downside of eating bugs, as with meat and vegetables is that pesticide use renders insect consumption dangerous. However, some folks, like biologist Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, author of the cookbook, Creepy Crawly Cuisine are pioneering the practice as a new method of sustainability. Those pushing insect consumption quickly point to the fact that regardless of our preference, we’re likely consuming insects today. Scientific American recently reported that the FDA’s  insect limit for hops going into the brewery tank is 2,500 aphids per 10 grams. Said another way, that’s a healthy 5 percent of total weight.

And there is also a trend factor. Popular blogger, Girl Meets Bug outlines  insects that we ought to consider as part of our daily routine. At the Future Food Salon held in New York, attendees imbibed wine while sampling interesting gourmet snacks made with insects. Chocolate Chip Cricket Cookies were popular and a Kickstarter campaign recently raised more than $50,000 for Exo, the company endeavoring to produce protein bars from cricket flour.

So where do you stand on this topic? Prepared to your liking, are you open-minded to this new protein source with all of it’s sustainable benefits? Could you pluck a grass hopper from a field as an appetizer or are you more likely to fall into the Exo crowd where crickets and cochineal are available but no longer recognizable as flour or food dye?

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49 Comments

  1. Even though you’ve given me some food for thought, so to speak, I’m not open to it. Too much ick factor!

    Reply
    • I understand Rachel. I’m not sure why it is. Some species of fish are really unattractive yet prepared, we don’t recognize them so are we willing to treat this the same way?

      Reply
  2. Sally

     /  October 5, 2013

    I think in several past lives ago I dieted on them and so have had my fill this time around.
    Although, it is true many so nutritious and I have heard, delish. But, no thank you. I will eat the ugly fish though!
    I enjoy all your blogs, Tammy. This one amusing and food for thought.

    Reply
    • Great answer Sally. Had my fill in my past life. Still, I think it is something that we may need to get future generations ready for.

      Reply
  3. I don’t think I could do it if they were recognizable, but as flour? Maybe. I’m not even good at eating fish if it’s recognizable (take the heads off the shrimp, please!) which is why I stick with a mostly vegetarian diet.

    Reply
    • I feel like you do. It didn’t bother me to know that cochineal were the dye in strawberry coffee drinks and I even used them for my own Easter eggs but if I can recognize it, then, I’m culturally outside the opportunity.

      Reply
  4. Interestingly enough, my biggest “ick” factor with eating insects is that they might be loaded with chemicals and pesticides! I don’t know if that’s a legitimate factor, or just my way of rationally sustaining from entomophagy.

    Reply
    • Very legit – but the same issue with meat and veg. I do think that there are probably some areas where you can partake if you are open to it!

      Reply
      • Exactly! I suppose its because I’ve been conditionalized to accept chemicals in plants as a vegetarian, while holding biases towards other lifeforms with those same issues. Including my own body.

        Reply
  5. One of my favorites in Etheopian ants in chocolate. Feels like rice crispies in smooth sweet chocolate in the mouth and you can’t tell they are ants.

    Reply
    • I never ate them but remember everyone talking about ants and grasshoppers when I was younger. Glad you got to try them. I have an ant pile out back that I’d love to convert to anyone’s snack!

      Reply
  6. NO. Just NO! :mrgreen:

    Reply
    • No in addition to all those that are scooted in through our grains, produce and beer already.

      Reply
      • Exactly ~ I’ve never even enjoyed eating the exoskeleton on soft-shell crab. I tried one once and that was enough ~ it’s a texture thing.

        I know that creepy crawlies creep into cereals, flours, oats, rice, breads, etc. If I see them, I pick them out. If I don’t see them, I don’t worry about them. So, I guess the solution is to pulverize them BEFORE serving.

        Reply
  7. I’ll answer your question with a question: “How many people who eat bugs have seen macro photos of said creatures?!” ICK!

    Reply
  8. Great post Tammy! You always bring us something good to chew on. ;) I’m thinking about this and just imagine that if we had to, we could do this. You have me picturing Aubrey though, picking up grasshoppers and showing me their pretty lavender bellies as she gives them a kiss. Wondering how I would get around that factor? haha! Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • I think that too Deb. If we had to, we could and we could disguise it in formats such as cricket flour. You would get over the belly kisses the same way that my son gets over petting a cow. Recipes to come, right?

      Reply
  9. I kno what you mean. I saw a BBC documentary lately on why eating bugs is so healthy & it could overcome the food problem in the world. But I don’t think that I am going to try them any time soon,…!!!

    Reply
  10. I hesitantly pushed the “like” button, Tammy. You know, this might be hard to get past the “ick” factor. Have accidentally eaten bugs from our garden, but… I would hope to be open-minded enough to eat insects if it was required in the moment, but in this moment will stick to a mostly vegan diet, thank you.

    Reply
    • As populations increase and agriculture diminishes, we’ll have to go to alternative sources. For now, I shall enjoy my breakfast of kale and peaches.

      Reply
  11. Lisa H

     /  October 6, 2013

    Well, I would certainly gives bugs a try, but as a staple on our dinner table? Not sure I could do that. Funny, really, considering all the benefits you listed. I remember as a kid when chocolate covered ants were popular, but never had the opportunity to try them.

    Reply
  12. I’ll come clean, Tammy. I consider myself enlightened but I’d find bugs a tough eat.Perhaps I’m not as enlightened as I thought I was!

    Reply
    • Me too Kate. I’m not sure where the difficulty comes in though. Frog legs, crayfish, oysters and the like are not attractive.

      Reply
  13. I was thinking of this yesterday when I scooped up rice at the start of lunch at an Indian buffet restaurant and there was a quite dead bug in my scoop. I doubt it was there on purpose, but while I’m sure it is edible I decided to set it aside and take a different scoop.

    Reply
  14. Turn the insects into a flour or “non-identifiable” substance and I can theoretically accept it. I think we will one day have to come to grips with the fact that insects can provide necessary protein. I’m not completely grossed out. Maybe just a little. :-)

    Reply
    • My thoughts align with yours. I grind mesquite beans into flour and likely some bugs with it so why not just grind the bugs. Of course, I won’t be a first mover on this trend but I won’t hesitate when it comes around. I predict that we begin seeing insects on a few menus in this country in the next couple of years.

      Reply
  15. Mopani worms form part of the South African diet in a certain region and for a particular ethnic group. I’ve tried them and would try other bugs but I don’t want them to form part of my everyday meal!

    Reply
  16. Hmmm yes this post qualifies as food for thought. I always knew insects were good protein however, I just don’t think I could get through the ick factor either. However, I bet if push came to shove for survival and that was my only option I’d probably just have to get over myself to survive. I loved your article. Jamie

    Reply
    • Thanks Jamie. I’m sure if we are faced with hunger and no alternatives, we’d figure this one out. I actually think we’ll see a boutique restaurant in NYC or some other metropolis that focuses on this very thing in the near future.

      Reply
  17. Excellent post. The ick factor is cultural of course. I don’t like the thought of eating insects either, but that’s not because there is anything “wrong” with it. I’ve just been culturally acclimated to a non-insect diet. For example, much of the world’s population considers it disgusting that we eat pork. They can’t imagine how anyone could eat the meat of a pig. Again, it’s just cultural. Likewise some cultures find it revolting that we eat chicken eggs.
    I doubt I’ll ever develop a taste for insects. But I suppose one should never say never. :)

    Reply
  18. I know there are cultures that have been eating insects for centuries but it’s not something we in the West are used to. I think it will be a very long time before this practise takes on here xx

    Reply
  19. Too much ick factor for me — I couldn’t do it. That being said, if I were starving and had no other options, my attitude might quickly change. (bleck)

    Reply
  20. No, I couldn’t but I’m already a vegetarian so there are several things that gross me out. However, even before I was became a vegetarian 25 years ago, I couldn’t eat lobster, crab, anything with more than 4 legs. Yuk.

    Reply
  21. maybe if I eat, had to close my eyes and my nose to eat these foods :D

    Reply
  22. I have such a natural aversion to creepy, crawly things I don’t think I could ever consider eating them, recognizable or not. If it meant life or death? Maybe. And that’s big maybe, too. “Ick!”

    Reply
  23. In some areas of my home country, locust is a delicacy and yes, helps control pest. I can’t them though . My imagination wins every time. Perhaps one day.

    Reply
  24. As someone who eats vegetarian food most of the time, I am a crappy carnivore. At one point, this bothered me to the point of pursuing vegetarianism full-time in a year-long experiment. Bugs are not my thing, but your reasons outlining why the ice factor should be combatted are compelling enough to think twice.

    Reply

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