Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=221757
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Colorado State University

People from Mexico enjoy eating grasshoppers. Here are some on display in a market in Oaxaca.


Move over vegetarians: Here come the insectarians

by Arshon Howard
May 21, 2013


Every spring May Berenbaum, head of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, prepares a special meal for her class. Insects.

This may sound like a challenge on the TV show "Fear Factor," but this soon may be a reality.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published a report on May 13, naming insects as a viable source of protein for humans, animals and pets. But experts believe the industrialized west won’t embrace the idea of eating insects so readily.

The 200-page report states that many of the 1,900 species have the same amount of protein as meat, citing the likes of grasshoppers, ants and other insects as an underutilized food for people.

“There are no nutritional reasons not to eat them,”  Berenbaum said. “They are actually good. People just have to be willing to try them.”

She serves her students worms.

Eating insects is fairly common in many cultures around the world, according to Chicago Academy of Sciences invertebrate specialist Karen Wilson. She believes it will take a very long time for people to embrace the idea.

“We are prejudiced against bugs,” she said. “It’s hard to change the culture, but people are eating all types of new things like vegetables and fruits, but the thought of eating bugs will take a long time for the Western culture to embrace.”

Some restaurants in Chicago, such as Sticky Rice, Mezcalina, and Las Fuentes Restaurant, at one point offered a variety of menu items with bugs. But due to the low demand of the bugs, they were taken off of their menus.

“It was too expensive to keep it on the menu,” Las Fuentes Restaurant server Edwin Medina said. “People generally enjoyed them, but not a lot of people were interested.”

People may not consider eating grasshoppers or ants, but little do they know, we already eat them indirectly, southwest bureau chief for Nation's Restaurant News magazine Ronald Ruggless said.

“Farm-raised proteins like catfish and other seafood already use industrial-produced meal worms as feed for what appears on our tables and restaurant menus,” he said. “So that ‘farm-raised’ catfish on your local menu probably has you eating insects of some sort without you really knowing.”

California-based Hotlix Candy, which specializes in a variety of edible candies embedded with insects, has gotten a lot of calls since the report was issued. Larry Peterman, chairman of Pismo Beach, Calif.-based Hotlix Candy, said he believes the U.N. report didn’t provide enought information to persuade people to consider adding insects to their diets.

“They didn’t really show the nutritional benefits of eating a grasshopper compared to a burger,” he said. “People don’t really understand it as it was kind of just thrown out there, which in my eyes will make it even harder for people to even considering eating bugs.”