ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
“I love bugs. And as the first person to popularize their eating in America, I take special pride in seeing their appreciation soar.” — Andrew Zimmern
Let me put a bug in your ear – and maybe in your mouth. Of course, if you are vegetarian or vegan, this article will not apply to you but feel free to read it anyway and share it with your carnivorous friends.
Do I eat bugs? Yes, I do. Here’s how I began the process of opening my mind and my mouth to the idea. For years I watched Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, TV personality, chef, and teacher. He travels around the world eating jaw dropping quantities of insects, raw and cooked. The late Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations also ate more than a few insects on his travels around the world.
Fascinated, I added eating insects to my Bucket List. Then on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico last year, my group toured a market, where Nicolas, our guide talked about the insect vendors. I perked up and told him I wanted to try some. He took me to a vendor he trusted and I bought 20 pesos worth of fried worms. I tried to share but no one took me up on the offer. The yuck, disgust and ‘eww’ factor was in full force with everyone but Nicolas and me.
Later that week I ate a grasshopper taco at an upscale restaurant and ant mole at a cooking school. I put my travel experiences in a poem for my friend who was supposed to come on the trip but dislocated her hip and had to sit it out - literally. Here’s the part about eating insects:
Oaxaca: Day 1
I bought worms to eat
Oh my what a treat.
So salty and crunchy
Delicious and munchy
Small and petite
The taste can’t be beat
And no, they did not taste like chicken!
Oaxaca: Day 2
Flying ants in the mole
At cooking class today
With Oscar the chef; Casa Crespo the school
The smells, the kitchen and cuisine so cool
It was part hard work and part good luck
To make dishes of pork, flying ants, and duck!
How does this relate to self-awareness? I think the way we handle food says a lot about how we experience life. We Westerners have a complex and complicated relationship with food. How we choose what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, where to eat and who to share meals with, offers us an effective way to practice self-awareness of what we put in our bodies and how that relates to our environment.
Food is a weighty issue (pardon the pun) because of a global food revolution called entomophagy (En-tuh-MAH-fah-jee) that is poised to positively affect our lives nutritionally, personally, economically, environmentally and globally IF we are willing to engage with it. Entomophagy advocates embracing a sustainable source of healthy protein – insects.
Self-Awareness Alert! If your first reaction to this idea is: eww! yuck! or a feeling of disgust, ask yourself, “Why?” Be honest but know that you have lots of company. A study published last year in the “Journal of Insects as Food and Feed” found that 72 percent of Americans are unwilling to consider eating insects.
Paul Rozin, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia says the origins of disgust are rooted in culture, which undoubtedly has a major effect on our food habits but they can be changed with time, information and experience.
Self-Awareness Alert! How do you feel about sushi? Consider that there was a time when raw fish was seen as repugnant in mainstream US culture. Now it's acceptable and it’s everywhere. So are insects.
Most cultures around the world have included insects in their diets for centuries. Western Europe and North America are the exceptions and the United Nations, along with food researchers, chefs and climate change activists are encouraging us to evolve and join the rest of the world. First, we need to understand why eating insects is a good idea. Here are the key reasons:
Nutritionally: insects are nutritious and can be up to 69% protein depending on how they are prepared. They are a great source of Omega 3’s and they are prebiotics – food for probiotics, those friendly, bacterial microorganisms that keep our digestive tract and immune system healthy. Grasshoppers, affectionately known as ‘land shrimp,’ are packed with about as much protein as lean ground beef but with less fat, and some caterpillars have more protein by weight than a turkey leg – and contain healthier fat.
Personally: Many people are surprised by how good insects taste; and that they come in such a wide variety of flavors. Which insects? Globally, beetles and caterpillars are consumed as much as all other edible insects taken together. Bees, wasps and ants are popular too, along with cicadas, locusts, and crickets.
Self-Awareness Alert! Any vegetarians and vegans reading this article may find this next bit of information unsettling. We have been unconsciously eating insects all of our lives. The majority of processed foods we buy have tiny pieces of insect in them. A jar of peanut butter may have up to 50 insect fragments. A package of frozen broccoli may have up to 60 aphids per 100 grams, and the same volume of chocolate can have about 60 fragments of various insect species. The FDA set these limits for aesthetic reasons — so we don't actually see the insects mixed into our food. The fact that we've been eating them our entire lives tells us how little of a danger they present.
Self-Awareness Alert! How’s your eww, yuck, and disgust factor now on a scale of 1 – ten with ten being, “OMG! Please tell me this is not true!” I can’t — it’s really true.
Economically: According to The World Bank, the global population is expected to increase to nine billion by 2050, which means we need to produce around 50 percent more food in order to feed an extra two billion people. Insects, according to a United Nations report have earned the right to be considered, "one of many ways to address food and feed security." Insect farming is already a multimillion-dollar industry in the US!
Environmentally: Farming large animals is expensive and bad for the environment. Growing grain and then feeding it to animals so we can eat them is incredibly expensive and inefficient. Daniella Martin, in her book, “Edible,” points to the fact that insects have the lowest food conversion rate of any potential livestock. For more information on this go to: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00K8MQ.pdf
Globally: Between the carbon dioxide emitted as a result of growing grain and the methane burps emitted by cows as they digest it, it's estimated that raising livestock generates about 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and that’s more than cars! In terms of impact on land, and water using the car metaphor: David Gracer, an advocate for easting insects and an expert on the topic says, “Cows and pigs are the SUVs; insects are the bicycles.”
The Bottom line: Eating insects is a practical way of adding a healthy, low-fat sustainable protein to our diets. As opposed to unconsciously eating insects in our peanut butter, broccoli, chocolate and who knows how many other foods, lets do it consciously for our personal health and the health of the planet.
If you are ready to join the entomophagy revolution, here are three US and one source in the United Kingdom to explore:
With its increasing popularity it is possible that eating insects will become an accepted part of Western culture, just like sushi.
Let’s give bugs a chance and a maybe a place on our plates.
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.