AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Tomorrow, of course, is Halloween, and that means lots of creepy crawly-things on doorsteps and fence posts, but on your dinner plate? It may not be far off, as WEEKEND EDITION food commentator Bonny Wolf explains.
BONNY WOLF, BYLINE: Watch what your face does when I suggest a mealworm quiche for lunch or fried scorpions for dinner. That's the big hurdle - getting past the ick factor. Entomophagy - eating insects - is common in most of the world. But in North America and Europe it's considered gross. Now, it's being proposed as a cheap food source and a way to save the planet as world population explodes. Crickets need less feed, less land and emit fewer greenhouse gases than cattle.
Nate Erwin, manager of the insect zoo at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, says grasshoppers are 60 percent protein and about 6 percent fat, while beef is about 18 percent protein and 18 percent fat. And for 100 pounds of grain feed, he says you'll get 10 pounds of beef, but 45 pounds of crickets. Plus, crickets are high in calcium. The rest of the world is far less squeamish about eating bugs. They eat palm grubs in Uganda, fried dragonflies in Indonesia and tarantulas the size of dinner plates in Venezuela. China has a huge insect menu: water beetles marinated in ginger and soy sauce, deep-fried scorpions on crispy rice noodles, caterpillar fungus soup.
But there have always been bug eaters among us. In the 1990s, The Insect Club in Washington, D.C. served dry-roasted crickets along with the party mix. Even today, you can get a good grasshopper taco in D.C. Nate Erwin says he and his insect zoo colleagues like a good bug feast. During the last 17-year cicada invasion, they fried them, roasted them, sauteed them and dipped them in chocolate. It's all mindset. Hissing cockroaches molt, like soft shell crabs. Which are you more likely to consider a delicacy? Does it help to know that hissing cockroaches have a diet of fruits and vegetables while crabs are bottom feeders and cannibals? Probably not. Every year, the anthropology club at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland has a pre-Halloween insect bake sale. This year, it was cicada nachos, grasshopper kebabs and rootworm beetle dip. Their goal is to show that insects can be party food, not just something on "Fear Factor." They want to help people get beyond the icky-ness.
CORNISH: Bonny Wolf is working on a book about the foods of Maryland's Eastern Shore. And you can find a recipe for grasshopper kebabs on our website, NPR.org.
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