This girl that went to church with me when I was younger had a trick she did with grasshoppers.
She would catch a hopper, tear off its big, back legs, then squeeze the thigh muscles. The legs would kick like they were still attached to a grasshopper doing the can-can.
It was weird. But also rather fascinating.
My older brother, he was intrigued by ants. He would drop cracker or cookie crumbs onto the sidewalk and watch for an hour as the ants carried chunks back to their underworld queen.
It was weird, but fascinating.
Last summer, on a writer’s campout with some former classmates and professors, one of my old history profs led us on butterfly identification excursions. We would stoop around the shallows of creeks and chase after butterflies fluttering around flowers, noting the colors and counting the spots on each wing, then scour field guides to determine which kind each little guy was.
Weird, yes, but fascinating.
I myself have never had a special interest in bugs. They’re an inconvenience when they’re invading your home, a fright when they’re crawling across your face at night, a terror when they’re biting and poisoning you.
When you’ve resorted to a desert island because of the zombiepocalypse, your first tasks will be finding water and building shelter. But then you’ll have to eat.
If you’ve planned well, you should have both brought some chow with you and chosen an isle with abundant food sources. But if you procrastinated planning or got shipwrecked on an unknown island en route, you could face hunger.
Thankfully, there’s one edible thing that exists pretty much every place on the planet: bugs.
The consumption of insects is called entomophagy. (In the Old Language, it means “ingesting icky creepy crawlies.”)
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You may not think bug-eating has much value, at least not enough to convince you to try it, even after TEOTWASWKI. But entomophagy is rising in popularity among environmentalists and foodies concerned with the sustainability of big agriculture and meat production. Insects are great low-fat protein sources, cheaper and more sustainable to produce than, say, cows, and are already eaten in many cultures, the thinking goes.
And if chowin' down on little beasties is good enough for such venerable figures as John the Baptist and Timon and Pumbaa, surely it’s good enough for us. Especially when it’s doomsday and your stomach is growling.
Insects are an acquired taste, of course, so you should start experimenting with them now.
Generally, the problem with harvesting (er, hunting? gathering?) bugs from the wild is that you don’t know what pesticides or chemicals they may have dabbled in around your neighborhood. So unless you learn how to gather them from an experienced entamophagist (and you should, while all is still well with the world), I recommend buying pre-packaged bugs at a specialty food or pet store.
I bought Fluker’s freeze-dried crickets from Petco. (For a more realistic experience without the risk of ingesting pesticides, you can buy live crickets — only 14 cents per bag! — and roast them yourself, listening as you bake them until their little chirping hearts stop beating.)
Like baking spinach into brownies to fool your kid into eating his vegetables, I made cricket cookies to ease myself into the world of bug eating.
I used the old mortar and pestle method to smush the whole crickets into smaller, less-identifiable pieces. The crunching almost got to me, but I persevered. Almonds, I told myself, just crushing almonds.
(As I was combing Google for grasshopper and cricket recipes, I came across one that required the wings and legs being removed, but “heads optional,” it said. See, to me and my boring American diet, heads are never an option. High fructose corn syrup, that’s optional. Pink slime, sure. But heads?)
Despite my apprehension, the cookies turned out delicious. I did get a few questionably crunchy parts stuck in my teeth once or twice, though. Dead cricket exoskeleton? I would wonder. No, I would assure myself, it’s only a slivered almond.
Of course, when you get to your desert island, you’ll likely encounter a slew of unfamiliar native species. There are thousands of bugs throughout the world safe for consumption, but you should study up now or take a field guide later to make sure your chosen insects are edible.
That way you can have your crickets and eat them too. Heads optional.
Next week: Something’s fishy.