How "I will not eat the bugs" attacks Davos and leverages xenophobic tropes : Code Switch Gene Demby and NPR's Huo Jingnan dive into a conspiracy theory about how "global elites" are forcing people to eat bugs. And no huge surprise — the theory's popularity is largely about its loudest proponents' racist fear-mongering.

This right wing conspiracy theory about eating bugs is about as racist as you think

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Just a heads up, y'all. This episode has some vulgar and homophobic language. Just be advised.

What's good, everybody? You're listening to CODE SWITCH. I'm Gene Demby, and this week I'm joined by Huo Jingnan. Hey, Jingnan. What's good?


DEMBY: So Jingnan is one of our colleagues here at NPR, and she covers how information gets made, how it gets disseminated, right?

HUO: Yes. And as part of that, I cover how conspiracy theories travel and spread.

DEMBY: OK. So (laughter) you're on the tinfoil hat beat, right? OK.

HUO: Yes, but not just that. I cover the entire information environment, both online and offline. Think social media, chat groups, television, schools, workplaces, churches.

DEMBY: So basically anywhere we get our information. Got it. OK. That is a very important beat, especially right now.

HUO: I mean, I think so.

DEMBY: You are here today at CODE SWITCH because we are on the race beat. And I know that on this episode we're going to go down a rabbit hole with you. I guess we got to pull out our whiteboard and get the - you know, the red markers and start drawing connections. Because you're going to walk us through a phenomenon that lands right at the intersection of our two beats, right? Race and conspiracies.

HUO: Yes. Q antisemitism, white anxiety and a healthy dose of xenophobia.


HUO: The conspiracy theory goes that global elites are plotting to force ordinary people like you and me to eat bugs.

DEMBY: Wait, what? To eat bugs?

HUO: Yeah, I know, I know.

DEMBY: OK. What?

HUO: That's how I started.

DEMBY: OK. OK, let's take this piece by piece, OK? Global elites - that is - you know, that's been kind of a wink toward this old antisemitic idea that they're, like, Jewish financiers who are secret puppet masters running the world from behind the scenes, right?

HUO: Yeah, exactly.


HUO: And there's more to the theory than just this wink. To give you a taste of what this looks like, let me take you across the Atlantic to the Netherlands.

DEMBY: OK. To the Netherlands - let me just grab some clogs, make sure they match my tinfoil hat. You know what I mean? You got to coordinate, got to coordinate.


HUO: OK. I want to show you this video. So this is a leader of a far-right populist party in the Netherlands. The guy's name is Thierry Baudet, and he's speaking at a protest of Dutch farmers. The farmers are protesting against the European Union plan to cut nitrogen emissions that could involve the Dutch government buying out meat-producing farms with high emissions.


THIERRY BAUDET: (Speaking Dutch).

DEMBY: OK. So in this clip, this guy - he's holding...


BAUDET: (Speaking Dutch).

DEMBY: ...A plastic bag of something...


BAUDET: (Speaking Dutch).

DEMBY: ...Like one of those bags of granola or jerky or something like that. And now he's dumping them out onto the stage. But wait, wait, wait, wait.


BAUDET: (Speaking Dutch).

DEMBY: He said, mealworms?

HUO: That is indeed what he's saying.

DEMBY: Mealworms? Like the little wriggly larva jawns (ph)?

HUO: Yes.


HUO: They're the second part of the beetle's life cycle. And just a few months ago, the EU said it's OK for mealworms to be in human food in Europe. So they're often ground up or dried and roasted as snacks. And I think those look like whole mealworms.

DEMBY: All right. So I'm supposed to be a dispassionate NPR journalist here, Jingnan, but I am screaming right now. Oh, my God, I'm so good. I'm never eating a mealworm, I promise you. Y'all can have the mealworms, Dutch people. It's all y'all's. Y'all good.


BAUDET: No way.

HUO: OK, so you agree with Thierry Baudet?

DEMBY: (Laughter) I guess I do.


BAUDET: No way. (Speaking Dutch).

HUO: Now he switches back to Dutch. He's saying he's not going to have Dutch food production and way of life and beautiful countryside taken from Dutch farmers. And then the speech turns back to his regular talking points - that schools are pushing the, quote, "transgender propaganda," that climate change is a hoax and so is COVID-19.

DEMBY: All right. So it's kind of like a grab bag of conspiracy stuff, right? But...

HUO: Yeah.

DEMBY: ...Jingnan, like, what's good with the bugs? I thought that farmers were stressed out about meat production. Like, what is this?

HUO: Yeah, yeah. Stay with me. Back on our side of the Atlantic, when Tucker Carlson covered this Dutch protest, he made the connection between bugs and meat farmers explicit.


TUCKER CARLSON: Insects are a replacement for meat. That's not always articulated, but it's always the point. The Netherlands is...

DEMBY: Tucker Carlson, of course, was the star of Fox News. His nightly news program had the highest rating of any show on cable news before he got fired from Fox...

HUO: Yup.

DEMBY: ...Just a couple - not too long ago.

HUO: Yes. And that clip is from a TV special on Fox Nation he hosted a few days before he was fired. It's called "Let Them Eat Bugs."

DEMBY: "Let Them Eat Bugs," OK.

HUO: So he's trying to prove this conspiracy theory that big government, in this case the European Union and the current Dutch government, is trying to crack down on the meat industry so they can push people into eating bugs. This is not the first time Tucker Carlson has had opinions about bugs, though. This is him back in 2019.


CARLSON: Because eating insects is repulsive and un-American.

HUO: And other conservative media personalities in America talked about edible insects, too. Here's Alex Jones on his streaming show "Infowars."


ALEX JONES: ...Coming food crisis recommends more sustainable diets of - wait for it - fly larva, fly larva, fly larva. You're letting the globalists train you to be a slave. All of this is alien to the normal way of life.

HUO: And Michael Knowles hosts a show at The Daily Wire.


MICHAEL KNOWLES: I don't want to live like a peasant in the middle of some jungle in Vietnam. I want to live like a civilized person with a cultural inheritance. I'm not going to eat the bugs. The bugs are gross.

DEMBY: All right. There you go. There you go. I was waiting for it. You know, we all know un-American - I'll put my air quotes - it's kind of a dog whistle, right? That last clip kind of lays bare the subtext.

HUO: Yeah.

DEMBY: OK, so - OK, OK. Can we just for - just - is this bug thing even real, though? Like, what exactly has them so agitated around eating bugs? Like, what's going on?

HUO: It's not that big a deal, actually. You know, using bugs as an alternative protein source for people has been floated by some environmentalists and some entrepreneurs who want to sell, like, cricket protein powder.


HUO: But it's a tiny, fledgling market in the U.S. Like, currently, it's often more expensive than beef.


HUO: But mostly, experts focused on climate solutions are just saying that we need to eat less meat - like, not switch to bugs.

DEMBY: So I've seen some of those stories about, you know, eating bugs to help save the planet. Again, that's not my journey. We're not eating bugs on this episode.

HUO: Disappointing.

DEMBY: (Laughter) So if it's not that big a deal, like, why are folks like Thierry Baudet in the Netherlands and Tucker Carlson here all up in arms about it?

HUO: Well, right now it may be because it has become part of an even bigger conspiracy theory. I did some digging on the internet, and this merging seems to have begun with this anonymous blog post in 2019.


HUO: All I could find out about the person who wrote it is that they call themselves a white identitarian.

DEMBY: So they're a white supremacist of some sort.

HUO: Yeah. And you have the tweets to back it up. And in the days after the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire in Paris, this blogger went on this rant saying that the fire was on purpose, that it was not only an attack on Christianity, on Christendom, but another sign of global elites being sadists and wanting to punish and enslave people around the world.


HUO: And then the blog post took a turn. This person wrote, quote, "have you noticed there is quite a lot of research going into turning bugs into mass food products?"

DEMBY: So this person's blog post is, as far as you can tell, the earliest instance for explicitly linking bug eating to all these other far-right concerns. You know, this person thinks that white folks are under attack, and they're trying to sound the alarm.

HUO: Right. And then on 4chan, where a lot of far-right conspiracy theorists like to gather, I will not eat the bugs started to get turned into a meme. People were posting it again and again, sometimes under the photo of the climate activist Greta Thunberg. The users on 4chan are anonymous, but we can see on these threads that some accounts have Nazi flags and white supremacist flags next to their IDs.

DEMBY: So these phrases and ideas are sort of just bumping up against each other in the troll-y (ph), unholy cauldron that is 4chan.

HUO: Yeah. Then the phrase I will not eat the bugs crossed from 4chan over to Twitter, first by way of, again, a white nationalist. People started pairing that phrase with another one - I will not live in a pod.

DEMBY: I will not live in a pod?

HUO: Yeah, they're referring to these tiny, co-living spaces. Some people are worried that the powers that be are going to force people into a kind of communal living.

DEMBY: OK, so these anxieties are about, like, deprivation and status loss, and they start to roll downhill and pick up more stuff as they go, it seems.

HUO: Yeah. Then a popular crypto investor who was on Twitter used the phrase, I will not live in a pod, I will not eat the bugs to poke fun at climate change proposals. Another early propagator of the phrase told me he tweeted it only as a joke and did not expect it to become a rallying cry. Either way, this phrase, I will not live in a pod and I will not eat the bugs, kept spreading.

DEMBY: So from 4chan to Twitter and then some s***posting, just made it a bigger deal. And so it sounds like, as with so many of these things, it's really hard to tell, like, how seriously any of the people who are throwing this phrase around really are being?

HUO: Right, totally. And that even bigger conspiracy theory has its own name and its own backstory. Thierry Baudet, your Dutch friend, namechecks it at the farmers protest.


BAUDET: (Speaking Dutch). Great Reset.

HUO: "The Great Reset is what's behind all of this," he says.

DEMBY: The Great Reset - I mean, that sounds very ominous.

HUO: Yeah, right? But its name comes from this very confusing initiative by the World Economic Forum, like, this group of veritable global elites that meet annually in the Swiss Alps.

DEMBY: The World Economic Forum. That's Davos, right? That's the big Davos festival, convention. I'm not sure what it is. And it happens every year. It gets...

HUO: Yeah.

DEMBY: ...A lot of attention. Yeah.

HUO: Yep. That's how many people might know it.

DEMBY: Yeah. If you think the global system is secretly being run by, like, powerful, unelected people who get to set the global agenda, like this annual meeting in Davos with a bunch of obscenely rich people and thought leaders just kicking it at a closed meeting of some sort. I don't know what they do in there. That's a big blinking piece of at least circumstantial evidence in favor of that argument, right?

HUO: Yeah. The WEF meeting at Davos has captured conspiracy theorists' imaginations for a long time. And The Great Reset was this initiative that the forum launched in June 2020, after most of the world went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

DEMBY: So The Great Reset was, like, full of policy proposals?

HUO: It's mostly just vibes. I mean, it's all very vague.


HUO: The WEF said that lockdowns were really bad and they exposed all sorts of inequities in our societies.

DEMBY: Yeah, that's true. We covered that, yeah.

HUO: Right. And the World Economic Forum said governments need to do a better job of caring for the citizens. Here's a snippet of the organization itself trying to explain the initiative.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: With everything falling apart, we can reshape the world in ways we couldn't before - ways that better address so many of the challenges we face. And that's why so many are calling for a Great Reset.

DEMBY: Reshape the world - I mean, OK, a bunch of questions there. But first, how? How do they plan to do this?

HUO: Yeah, fair question. They didn't really say. And this video is them trying to explain themselves again, like, after conspiracy theorists have been stuffing all sorts of stories under The Great Reset name - things like governments are forcing you to stay at home and wear a mask.

DEMBY: Or, like, take the vaccine?

HUO: Yes, exactly. It's been construed as a ploy to control the population and take away your freedoms for good. Like, you can hear the WEF trying to address that concern here.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: A Great Reset? That sounds more like buzzword bingo masking some nefarious plan for world domination. Hands up, this kind of slogan hasn't gone down well. But all we really want to say is that we all have an opportunity to build a better world.

DEMBY: I got to say, like, even in their own explanation there, they sound mad defensive. Like, if you're a conspiracy theorist, that might make you even more suspicious of the people at Davos and WEF, right?

HUO: Yeah. They are trying to debunk or pre-bunk (ph), depending on how you look at it.

DEMBY: I like pre-bunk. That's cool.

HUO: Yeah. Not very effective. But either way, the actual Great Reset initiative that sprung out of Davos is still vague and sprawling, kind of like The Great Reset conspiracy theory that took on its name. The conspiracy theory goes that there were shadowy puppeteers behind governments. Before it was called The Great Reset, it had a different name - The New World Order.

DEMBY: Oh, yeah. OK. That's a throwback. That was a big deal in the 1990s. Pat Robertson, the super conservative Christian broadcaster who just died not too long ago...

HUO: Yeah.

DEMBY: ...He wrote a book back then with that name, "The New World Order." And, you know, the whole thing - shady financiers and the trilateral commission trying to bring about the Antichrist, stuff like that.

HUO: Yeah, it's like a hodgepodge of old, often antisemitic tropes.

DEMBY: Yeah, so you're saying that The Great Reset gave that old New World Order a new branding.

HUO: Yes, and a new life as well. Like, think about all this anxiety about the pandemic, right? It's supercharged, this conspiratorial thinking. Conspiracy theory is one of the things that people do to cope with uncertainty, and the pandemic was a very uncertain time. So, you know, The New World Order absorbed eating bugs as one of the more salacious subplots before the pandemic. And fast-forward to 2022, it is intertwined again with The Great Reset.

DEMBY: Via more blog posts?

HUO: Well, now it's a meme. It has upgraded. You have...


HUO: ...This conservative pundit named Noor Bin Laden saying this meme on the streaming show hosted by Steve Bannon, the former advisor to Donald Trump.

DEMBY: Wait, Bin Laden, like, Bin Laden, Bin Laden?

HUO: Yeah. She's Osama Bin Laden's niece.

DEMBY: OK. Wow. We are on a journey. OK.

HUO: That's a different story.


HUO: So on Steve Bannon's show, Noor Bin Laden has a message directed towards the head of the World Economic Forum.


NOOR BIN LADEN: And as a wrap-up, I would like to share a message to Klaus for him to tell his own masters that...

HUO: Like, very serious, not joking.


LADEN: ...My name is Noor Bin Laden. I am a human being, not a QR code. I don't want to eat the bugs. I don't want to live in the pod. I don't want to be trapped in a digital jail, and nothing they can do will make...

HUO: When she said it, versions of this meme has already been so all over the place, they were printed on t-shirts and mugs that you can buy online.

DEMBY: OK, so this might be a little bit of a stretch, but when we were covering the unrest in Charlottesville back in 2017, we heard the white supremacists who assembled there chanting, Jews will not replace us. That was a reference to a conspiracy theory that held that Jewish people were planning to reduce the number of white people in Europe and Australia and the U.S. and replace them and their cultures with people of color and with immigrants. And so it sounds like The Great Reset has some echoes of The Great Replacement.

HUO: I mean, the common element in both conspiracy theories are the Jewish puppeteers...


HUO: ...Right? - the master that Bin Laden's referring to. But that's not unique to either The Great Reset or The Great Replacement. It's just, like, a very common ingredient in the conspiracy soup. Like, The Great Reset just added some mealworms for a little crunch.

DEMBY: Ew, Jingnan...

HUO: I mean...

DEMBY: ...Ew.

HUO: ...Seriously, right? This conspiracy theory is so intriguing to me because it doesn't only appeal to fear, which is classic, but it also appeals to disgust. Like, it's so common and visceral. Like, racist fear - food disgust is a culturally specific thing, with its own long history and backstory. I mean, it is fascinating to me as someone who grew up eating silkworms. So I did some research and found that this disgust, in part, comes from how the early colonizers defined what or who is European, or civilized, and what or who is not.

DEMBY: Hold up. Hold up. I'm sorry. You said a lot there, but you ate silkworms for real?

HUO: Yes, but - is that what caught your attention? I mean, yes, but I promise I'm not going to try and convert you.

DEMBY: Listen, you couldn't (laughter). We're going to get into who is disgusted by bugs and who isn't after this break. Stay with us, y'all.


DEMBY: Gene.

HUO: Jingnan.

DEMBY: CODE SWITCH. And Huo Jingnan covers how people produce, pass around and make sense of information. And for our purposes today, that means conspiracy theories and, in particular, this one theory that holds that the Western world is under attack by powerful people who are trying to force us all to eat bugs.

HUO: Yes. But it's not only conspiracy theorists, OK?


SANJAY GUPTA: A handful of restaurants right here in America that serve patrons bugs on purpose.



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yep. It's a locust. And it's supposed to be there.

JILL SMITH: We know what you're feeling. Repulsion, right? For most Americans, insects are signifiers of filth.

HUO: You know, journalists know that people are repulsed by bugs and frame the stories accordingly, right? Like, just picture those crickets on the tongue, writhing worms in the box.

DEMBY: Yeah. You could hear it in that clip, right? They're just like, ugh. That gross-out - I mean, that's a big part of why this is catchy, though?

HUO: Yes. And the idea that, like, this could be a climate solution - that you could save the planet by eating these creepy crawlies - like, isn't that super intriguing?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: But what if it actually had the potential to save the planet?

DARREN GOLDIN: Our planet, but I think insects are a very important piece of the solution.

GUPTA: The growing population and rising costs of food, the rest of the world just might be onto something.

DEMBY: Yeah. So this story - the bug-eating story - definitely goes, like, in and out of fashion every once in a while. You know what I mean? It's easy. And obviously, it gets our reactions. But that reaction - that's a colonial thing? Are we colonized because we're grossed out by bugs?

HUO: Well, kind of. It goes - I mean, this history goes all the way back to when Christopher Columbus sailed.

DEMBY: Of course, it always comes back to Christopher Columbus - or Ronald Reagan.

HUO: (Laughter) Oh, my God. Well, I mean, OK. When you look into the archives - right? - we see the Europeans actually used to eat bugs, like, in the classical antiquity times. In Aristotle's the "History Of Animals," he wrote this about cicadas.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY, BYLINE: (Reading) At first, the males are the sweeter eating, but after copulation the females, as they are full, then, of white eggs.

DEMBY: Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. We just had a brood of cicadas descend on D.C. two summers ago. They are huge. They have big, red eyes. Absolutely not.

HUO: Sounds like you missed the opportunity to add them to your diet.

DEMBY: No, I did not.

HUO: I wish I could have caught some, but they are barely anywhere this year.

DEMBY: When they come back in 15 years, I'm going to send you a box so you can just grill them up and enjoy. That's all you.

HUO: OK. Before that, though, consider the moth grubs.

DEMBY: Moth grubs?

HUO: Pliny the Elder documented that the Roman Epicurus of his day enjoyed moth grubs fattened on flour and wine.

DEMBY: Flour and wine - ooh, that sounds so French. Ha-ha, ho-ho - French moth grubs. I'm sorry. So wait, what happened? You had Greeks, and you had Romans just going to town on bugs. So why didn't their descendants?

HUO: We don't know exactly why. Some researchers hypothesized that it could be because of some centuries of harsh winters in parts of Europe beginning in the 13th century, and that colder winter likely resulted in smaller insect population.

DEMBY: Huh. So a different kind of climate change.

HUO: Yes. Regional and very moderate change compared to today. So, you know, researchers hypothesize that since there were fewer bugs, so then there were fewer bugs to eat, and that could have contributed to the culture going away.

DEMBY: Huh. That's - huh - fascinating.

HUO: And, you know, in the Americas and other parts of the world, insects remained part of people's diets. Indigenous people harvested swarms of grasshoppers that drowned in lakes and were naturally dried and salted. They also ground ants into flour. When the European colonists arrived in America, they were scandalized by the Indigenous people's diets, which included bugs. Diego Alvarez Chanca, who sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, wrote this in a letter.

KASIA PODBIELSKI, BYLINE: (Reading) They eat all the snakes and lizards and spiders and worms that they find upon the ground, so that, according to my judgment, their bestiality is greater than that of any beast upon the face of the Earth.

DEMBY: And I think he was using bestiality slightly differently than we might use it today. He means animal-like, when we tend to mean something else - like, really liking the animals.

HUO: (Laughter).

DEMBY: But what he's saying is he saw what Indigenous people in the Americas - what they were eating, which included, like you said, bugs.

HUO: Yep.

DEMBY: And he thought it marked them as backwards and savage and beneath them.

HUO: Yeah, exactly. And that means the colonists were not going to eat the bugs. Here's an expert who researched it.

JULIE LESNIK: There was very much an idea that you are what you eat back then, and so the Europeans felt they need European foods. So there was very much a worry that if you ate the Indigenous foods, you would become a savage.

DEMBY: Whose voice are we hearing there, Jingnan?

HUO: She is Julie Lesnik, an anthropologist at Wayne State University in Detroit. She studies entomophagy, or insect eating.

DEMBY: Entomophagy - OK, wow. New word alert. OK.

HUO: Lesnik wrote an article tracing this colonial history of eating bugs - or a reluctance to eat bugs...

DEMBY: Right.

HUO: ...In America. She says we don't have much information between then and now but that this repulsion probably became a learned thing over time.

LESNIK: I think it just kind of gets recapitulated every generation. Like, it's the same thing, and it just becomes the same thing again because the seed was planted in the generation before.

HUO: The key here is that disgust is socially reinforced. Like, babies don't find bugs disgusting until they're a little older, right?

DEMBY: Yeah. I can tell you, as the parent of a very young child, that they put everything into their mouths. But, yeah, we've heard some version of this all the time. The colonizers come to think about the people they're colonizing as backwards. And their justification is always, like, about this elemental stuff - right? - like what people wear and the ways they worship and how they organize their families, and in this case, what they ate.

LESNIK: And this idea that we are the civilized and that we have, you know, the best and are the best. And so insects are so easy for people to other and associate with people that are not the best and not civilized. It's like the easiest punching bag.

HUO: One of the ways people often define who they are is by pointing out who they're not, like when Michael Knowles says he wants to live like a civilized person and not a Vietnamese farmer.

DEMBY: Right. Exactly.

HUO: But what happened with most American families is not what happened with, say, Mexicans. In Oaxaca, Mexico, people have long eaten chapulines - grasshopper. And as Oaxacans have migrated to places like Southern California in particular, they have brought their cuisine with them. You can find chapulines in grocery stores there.

JASON DE LEON: There's, like, the chapulin salt. And so that's just ground up chapulines with salt. And that's probably the most common way you're going to find it, as a sort of seasoning.

HUO: That's Jason De Leon. He got really into chapulines when he went to Mesoamerica for his anthropology field work. He says his wife remains skeptical, though.

DE LEON: I like the lime and chili, you know? And if I can get them real spicy, I like that. You know, that's great, too.

HUO: Kind of like Takis. They're crispy, too.

DE LEON: Because you're literally - you know, you're biting into that, like, exoskeleton. And I think people get weirded out when they have, like, a grasshopper foot stuck between their teeth, you know? And they're like, you know - I mean, because it's, like, all the pieces, right?

DEMBY: Yeah, I mean, one way in which they're not like Takis is that Takis don't have legs, right? Come on.

HUO: (Laughter).

DEMBY: And, yes, this is us, of course, doing that, you know, gross-out, bait-y thing that we just talked about before. I'm going to cop to it. We're doing the same thing.

HUO: For sure. I mean, Jason says that, while American palates are often skeptical of new cuisines, they are not immovable.

DE LEON: You know, I grew up in the generation where - you know, where sushi was like, oh, my God, over in Japan, they're eating raw fish. Can you believe that?

DEMBY: OK, but we've established that, in the U.S., eating bugs is still a really rare thing. And just to go back to what Jason said, I feel like eating bugs might have a slightly higher floor to clear, a higher bar to clear, for Americans than sushi did to becoming, if not mainstream food, then at least, like, unremarkable food. Because, like, for starters, unlike sushi, which used to be thought of as, like, fancy, cosmopolitan-people food - right? - like, as we keep hearing, people think of some stuff, like bug-eating, as poor folks' food, you know?

HUO: I mean, many once upon a time, poor people food have ended up in fine dining, like lobsters, coq au vin and barbecue.

DEMBY: That's fair. OK.

HUO: I think that, like, different kinds of foods seemed to have been associated with the different kind of people that consume them, especially when that group kind of sticks out in some way, like poor people or immigrants. I think of how half of all Asian Americans are born outside of the U.S. And many from Southeast Asia would have had insects growing up.

DEMBY: So they might have, like, some cultural memory of, like...

HUO: Yeah.

DEMBY: ...Eating food.

HUO: Right.

DEMBY: But that seems like part of this, too, right? Like, the people in the U.S. for whom insect-eating might not be conceptually that big a deal, they're also people who might really easily be written off as kind of conditionally American to begin with.

HUO: Sure.

DEMBY: And related to this, I mean, I can't help but think about beef here because beef is kind of treated as this quintessentially American thing.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #1: Beef - it's what's for dinner.


DEMBY: Like, for real. Like, in some real ways, a lot of Americans see beef consumption as their birthright, as part of, like, American identity, even as a totem of virile American masculinity.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #2: The Texas Double Whopper - eat like a man, man.

DEMBY: And so when Tucker Carlson warns his TV audience that there are these people out there who want to take away your beef and replace it with wriggling bugs, you can kind of see how that might activate lots of people. Like, you used to have a steak. You used to have a burger. Now, here's a silkworm. Eat it like the cuck you are.


HUO: Right, not even some effeminate soy boy.

DEMBY: I know.

HUO: Now you're a brainwashed, compliant bug-eater. And when you comply, you're bowing to the powerful unelected figures who are running our lives.

DEMBY: Oh, my God. OK, so I know this is the central tenet of the Great Reset conspiracy theory, but it's not really all that outlandish. You know what I mean? Like...

HUO: Yeah. I mean, last year, a pollster who worked with Democratic candidates asked respondents if they agreed with the statement that the federal government is controlled by a secret cabal. Fifty-three percent of Republicans agreed with that, and so did 41% of independents and 37% of Democrats.


DEMBY: That's - wow, OK. So that - yeah, that kind of makes sense. Like, the idea that our government works - actively works to advance the desires of a small number of very powerful, very rich people, like, when you think about it like that, like, I'm surprised the numbers of people answering yes to that question are that low, to be honest.

HUO: The thing is, that poll was a way to get at people's QAnon beliefs. Like, that statement is a central statement of the QAnon conspiracy theory. As you just said, honestly, like, you don't have to be red pill to subscribe to this. Conspiracy theories are built on these kernels of truth.

DEMBY: But just because these conditions exist - right? - you know, skepticism towards, you know, the powerful, bugs making us go ick - that doesn't mean that you, like, going to end up red pill, though.

HUO: Right. There's no neat formula leading people to adopt these ideas. We don't really know why people get caught up in them. What we do know is that certain categories of people have picked up these ideas more - unvaccinated, male, conservative, Trump-voting, Republican and also not college-educated. And conspiracy theories from pundits to politicians leverage these true-sounding ideas and widespread feelings and distort them. Their actions introduce distraction and division where there is consensus. Pew Research shows that strong majorities of Americans support some sort of goals and actions to mitigate effects of climate change.

DEMBY: So then squabbling over a marginal idea, like eating insects, that gets in the way of pushing for climate change measures, like eating less meat or reducing emissions.

HUO: Exactly. We see this happening with cars, too. Some Great Reset conspiracy theory believers were up in arms in the U.K. because a municipal government proposed reducing car use in city centers. They say it's a ploy by the government to take away people's cars and turn cities into, quote, "open-air prisons."

DEMBY: Wow. OK. So I guess people - I mean, just going to be stuck in traffic jams then.

HUO: And stuck with more emissions. You can see this feedback loop between the grassroot conspiracy theorists and politicians like Thierry Baudet. The politicians capitalize on the attention-grabbing nature of these claims. And as they are capitalizing, they also give the conspiracy theory more name recognition, even if Baudet's party loses in the most recent election.

DEMBY: So to wrap up, there is this broad skepticism of government floating out there, right? And then you add these unstated racial anxieties in the mix - right? - things like, you know, white status laws because of demographic change. You know, all that talk about, this isn't the America that I grew up in, which, of course, has been a very effective button to push for a lot of American political history. And then on top of that, you throw in people eating nasty-a** bugs.

HUO: Not nasty. Yes, bugs with the - all the unpleasant associations and learned disgust.

DEMBY: All right, fine. Sure, sure, sure, sure. Whatever.

HUO: Plenty of people who fall into all those social demographic buckets associated with higher levels of conspiratorial thinking and are grossed out by bugs will never believe this stuff.

DEMBY: Right.

HUO: The way that people see the world is really idiosyncratic.

DEMBY: OK. Yeah. So - huh. Right. So there's a larger social context in which these theories can take root, and then there's, like, just human-level stuff that makes certain people just go all-in on them.

HUO: Right. And then the other people use this to get attention and attack things they don't like. So given this stew of discontent and uncertainty we're all living through right now, we shouldn't be surprised if we start to hear more people declaring in the coming months and years, emphatically, that they, too, will not eat the bugs.

DEMBY: All right, y'all. That's our show. You can get at us on Instagram @nprcodeswitch - all one word. If email is more your bag, ours is And subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

HUO: This episode was produced by Jess Kung and edited by Dalia Mortada and Brett Neely. Our engineer is Robert Rodriguez. Thanks to Jerome Socolovsky for translating the Dutch speech. Also, thanks to Jerome and Kasia Podbielski for their voices.

DEMBY: And shout-out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - that's Christina Cala, Courtney Stein, Leah Donnella, Veralyn Williams, Lori Lizarraga, B.A. Parker and Steve Drummond. As for me, I'm Gene Demby.

HUO: And I'm Huo Jingnan.

DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.

HUO: Peace.


DEMBY: All right, Jingnan. We got to talk. We got to talk 'cause you mentioned way back before the break that you grew up eating silkworms. I have questions 'cause...

HUO: What questions (laughter)?

DEMBY: I mean, I guess, for starters, how do they taste? I mean, what do they taste like?

HUO: The closest thing I can think of is popcorn with a very specific flavor. The outside is, like, you know, brown meat, and the inside is - it's like what your hair smells like after you burn it and before it turns into crisp.

DEMBY: That doesn't sound like popcorn at all to me (laughter).

HUO: Crunchy - crunchy, crispy.

DEMBY: Crunchy and crispy. OK. But again...

HUO: And they're kind of small. You don't need to chew a lot.

DEMBY: They're like - so like...

HUO: They're popcorn-level small.


HUO: Yes.

DEMBY: And did you just - do you, like, season them with anything or...

HUO: Stir fry with soy sauce.


HUO: My mom would just get them from the wet market, you know? It was not - it's not an everyday thing, but it's, like, no fancy food - you know, just, like, very basic stir fry. It's not like shrimp.

DEMBY: It's not like shrimp (laughter). I mean, I feel like you could put anything in fried rice and soy sauce and, like, probably make it pretty good.

HUO: That is true. But the protein, you can't make it up.

DEMBY: Thank you for that, Jingnan. The next time I eat popcorn, I will be thinking about worms. So thank you for corrupting my brain.

HUO: Try the actual silkworm, and then you will have a positive association.

DEMBY: OK. I'm going to take you up on that - maybe.

HUO: (Laughter).

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