The Bug Buffet
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - October 31, 2007 - Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Mark’s Archive
How would you like to chomp down on a 4-5 inch long, juicy, Madagascar Hissing Cockroach? Feel its warm guts spray across your tongue as you bite through the crunchy shell. What? What’s the matter? Why are you looking at me like that? Does that gross you out? Good. It should. Because if it doesn’t, you’ve definitely got bugs in your belfry.
A long-standing annual dinner, held at a prestigious New York hotel, for an organization of scientists and explorers, has always featured exotic fare. In years past attendees have dined on polar bear, rattlesnake, duck tongue, yak, and various animal eyeballs. Now they’ve taken a turn for the creepy crawly. Phyllo shells stuffed with cucumber and cream cheese but topped with a scorpion, tempura battered tarantulas, mealworm sushi, maggots, crickets, roasted ants, and a “pretzel” composed of intertwined earthworms. The coffee was made from coffee beans that were eaten and then either vomited or defecated out by weasels.
Think that’s buggy? Wait, it gets better. Seats at this entomophagous dinner started at $300 and went up to $25,000! Twenty-five thousand dollars to eat maggots that one could have simply picked off any festering roadkill for free. But I guess the producers of the event have to make up for their costs. The coffee made from the weasel-rectum beans costs $300 a lb. The cockroaches are $12 a piece. And this truly beggars my imagination………the tarantulas cost $175 a piece!! And people scoff when I pay $175 for an eight course extravaganza of foie gras, lobster, fish, squab, lamb, and beef at a top notch French restaurant. This puts things in a whole other perspective. So let’s see. For $175 you can chew spider guts or you can have an elaborate tasting menu at a preeminent French restaurant. If that’s not a no-brainer than you’ve got bugs eating your brain.
If you’ve followed my column, you know I’ve championed being open minded to different foods. I’ve encouraged people to broaden their culinary horizons. I’ve argued that our individual food repertoires are shaped, and often limited by, our cultural, environmental and psychological biases. But by the same token, it’s also these psycho-cultural influences which provide a framework for judging the aberrancy of food choice. For example, there are a number of cultures on the planet where insects are a dietary staple. If one were born and raised in one of these cultures then eating insects would certainly not feel foreign. But what about the bug-eaters who haven’t been born and bred in an insect-ingesting environment? Why don’t they evince the natural revulsion to eating insects that we would expect from someone from a non-bug consuming culture?
I believe that in the absence of certain cultural influences, man as a species has a natural repulsion to insects and other creepy creatures. If you could raise a human being in a vacuum, devoid of any extraneous influences, and you plucked some spinach, sautéed it and put it on one plate, and gathered up a pile of slithering, slimy worms and put them on another, I think the culturally-pristine human would opt for the veggies. I know at the very least the vegetarians are agreeing with me.
So, if you accept my premise that man has an inherent repugnance for multi-legged critters, and one doesn’t hail from an environment that would have desensitized them to eating bugs, what then, in God’s name, would make one want to consume them? And I don’t mean just a bite or two out of some lurid curiosity, but to actually sit down to a full blown bug-out buffet. And, if that’s not enough, also be willing to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to do it! As the hackneyed colloquial question goes: What’s up with that? (I’m assuming of course that the prominent scientists of this organization who can afford to pay upwards to $25,000 for this dinner are not amongst the indigenous populations where feasting on bugs is customary).
Pro-buggers will attempt to justify their dietary choices by arguing that bugs are nutritious and some actually taste good. Who cares???? Thank God I don’t live in some impoverished area of the world where I must rely on bugs to survive. I don’t need to eat spiders to get my protein requirements. And I don’t care if the giant hissing cockroaches taste like brie, (according to the chef who prepares them). I’ll just eat brie! No I’m sorry. In our modern day culture and society there is no real reason to have to eat bugs. People need to be more open to different foods but this is off the hook.
Hopefully this will not end up being a future trend in our food neurotic society. Can you imagine America’s culinary landscape if bugs became as popular as the recent low-carb craze. I can see a chain of fast-food bug restaurants called “McBeetles” serving ground bug burgers. You want tarantula legs with that? Someone would come up with the “Bug Network” and shows like “30 Minute Mealworms” and “Bug Meets Grill.” Then would come the cookbooks: “365 Ways to Cook Bugs,” and “Bugs for Dummies.” That’s when I pack up and move to France.
But if I had to bet on it, I think bugs are too gross, even for America’s growing obsession with fat-free, nutritional, environmentally safe, politically correct food. Americans may be neurotic about their food but that doesn’t mean they’ve completely lost their minds. I hope. This entire bug-eating prospect gives me, shall we say, butterflies in the stomach?
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