Saturday, March 19, 2011

A New Experiment in Entomophagy: Mixed Bugs

I won't make any promises about how I'm going to start writing regularly. I already (sort of) made that mistake in an effort to keep myself motivated to write through these gloomy winter months, and all I did was crash and burn.

Winter is always tough. Everything is dead and I'm stuck in a cramped apartment where every day I feel more and more disconnected from the things I love and the things I love to write about. Perhaps next year, being a year older and wiser, I won't try to force things that won't happen naturally. If that's at the core of how I want to interact with the world, then I should be able to respect that with my writing.

But, spring is already peeking through. I'm not a big fan of Wordsworth, but as I took a walk tonight and saw the daffodils' cheery faces, I could grasp at what he was trying to teach me. I want to make as much of the sun while I have it these few short months.

Also, I've been eating bugs.

I've written about entomphagy--the act of eating bugs--before. There were mixed results with that experiment. For starters, my ineptitude at preparing insects for consumption resulted in bugs exploding all over my kitchen. And while the taste was actually quite pleasant, there were definitely psychological hang ups. I was eating bugs, after all.

I wanted to expand my experience, though, to see what other culinary options were available and to see if I could get over my bias, as a Westerner, against eating creepy crawlies. This time I allowed someone more competent to prepare my selection of edible critters. Through the website, I placed an order for their sampler of "mixed bugs". This included bamboo worms, silkworm larva, mole crickets, big crickets, and dung beetles. Given that these bugs made a bit of a trip, and were already cooked, I ended up with more bug parts than whole bugs. For the most part I was guessing which ones I was actually eating.

They were cooked, as I mentioned, and dehydrated for preservation. They were also lightly spiced. And you know what? They weren't bad.

The bamboo worms weren't my favorite. Lucky me, they sent an extra pack of bamboo worms as a "free gift". The problem wasn't with flavor or texture, rather it was because I found them cold to the bite. It was a weird experience. Even sitting at room temperature like all of the other bugs, they emanated a coolness when I bit into them. They struck me as something I would much prefer to have warm. Perhaps freshly cooked and served hot they would be quite enjoyable.

Not all of my finds were duds, however. I loved the crickets. They were crunchy and nutty and more than I could ever have hoped they would be. The mole crickets really do resemble moles (or, perhaps, moles resemble mole crickets). We have bred crickets before when we were keeping reptiles as pets, and I would seriously consider keeping some and incorporating them into my diet. Crickets aren't difficult to keep, and it would certainly be more cost-effective than buying them, live or prepared, whenever I fancied a bite. This could be a real winner.

Unfortunately, I couldn't really make a judgment on either the beetles or the silkworm larva. Both ended up being pretty mangled by the time they got to me, and there weren't really a lot of parts that were identifiable as one or the other. With the exception of the bamboo worms, though, I didn't find anything I tasted to be disagreeable, so I imagine that as distinct entities they would be quite enjoyable.

As I struggle to align apartment living with my desire to live self-sufficiently, I think I will be drawn more and more to raising insects for food. They have a small footprint and relatively few needs, and the benefits they provide to our diets are innumerable.

To this same end, I'm starting to think about renewing my indoor herb garden and perhaps trying my hand at growing an indoor lemon tree. It would be really cool if I could sell lemons on consignment at the farmers market, and I find I'm happiest when my cooking includes fresh herbs. Salt and dried spices just aren't enough for most dishes.

I've been inspired lately and I have lots of things I'd like to share with you. Hopefully I will soon. But for now, I'm taking it day by day as I try to balance a forty hour work week with all of my other passions. No more grandiose promises from me. You'll get as much as I can afford to give, which goes hand in hand with how much time I'm willing to spend in front of a computer during my downtime. Blogging, as with all things in life, is about balance.

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