By Thurston Elfstrom
Okay – the above title is a bit ambitious. Aside from an ant or two, popped into my 3rd-grade maw, I haven’t swallowed a bug in 40 years. That does not an insectivore make!
Then again, that’s not entirely true either, because all humans eat bugs every day. We’re not just talking the famous and well-reported cockroach bits in chocolate, either. Nope, bugs are in all pre-packaged food and whole ingredients. Pasta, peanut butter, fruits, veggies…. You name it – it’s got insects or parts in it.
However, even knowing that your favorite candy bar or brand of potato chips contains a small portion of insect parts is quite a bit different than intentionally setting out to ingest multiple and whole insects.
So you can imagine how my trepidation built all day leading up to the Missoula Insectarium’s Bug Appétit event. I pondered how I could possibly eat mealworm arrancini (a task I feared would be far more monumental than tackling the grilled grasshopper tacos).
As we arrived at 6:00 p.m. and mingled with other guests, I was buoyed by the fact that most people were in it to win it – already proudly sporting their ‘I ate a bug’ button on their blouses, blazers, and sweaters.
Uh oh, all of a sudden we were being called to our tables to await the various courses of chitin-clad critters. Anxious, we heard the Head Chef at Burns Street Bistro tell us about the preparations – the ins and outs, pairing of flavors. Truth be told, nothing this brilliant artisan said sunk in, I was that wrapped up in the task to come.
And then the time was upon us all. Silence befell the room of 50 forward foodies as the servers brought out the first course…the worrisome mealworms.
A swipe through the attractive dish…oh…a luscious bite, creamy and tender with a wonderful sauce. Wait, where’s the bug? Ah, there it was! But not on my palate, it was only to be seen on the plate itself, several mealworms visible amidst the arborio rice. I prised out one of the poached larvae to taste on its own – definitely very mild and almost indistinguishable from the starchy rice in the fried risotto ball. Delicious.
The sounds of contented dinners were now starting to take over the previously silent soundscape. This was quickly followed by a flood of descriptions regarding the dish’s characteristics (and a few comments like “I could have used more mealworms”).
My confidence bolstered, I was raring to go, all bug inhibitions gone. Bring on the grasshopper tacos! I particularly enjoyed the cricket flour tortilla and am increasingly fascinated at the implications and prospect of baking with the stuff.
All too soon our dessert had arrived – cricket bark with vanilla ice cream.
Reflecting on the experience, I’m hopeful that more Montanans and Americans will give insect ingredients and cuisine a chance. As our planet becomes increasingly populous, scientists and researchers believe that entomophagy (eating insects) will necessarily become critical to meet the nutritional needs of a hungry human population.
I hope this is the case; the implications of producing so much protein are staggering and insects seem like a logical solution. In the meantime I urge you to take a chance and eat some bugs. You might just like what you taste!