Descending the Food Chain

Mark Poutenis

Other than claiming, "Hey, I'm a cannibal!" you can't do much more to repulse others than to profess your dietary preference for insects.

That's right. Bug munching. Maybe some fricasseed fly or basted butterfly. With nearly 1500 recorded species of edible insects, the possibilities are endless. That factoid immediately raises a couple of very valid questions: Who did the tasting and recording? And why? A group of scientists, of course, because, pound for pound, bugs are phenomenally nutritious critters, a fact sorely overlooked by most of modern Western society.

But not by those darned researchers. Entomology is the study of insects in general; entomophagy is the official title for bug eating and the division of science devoted to it. In addition to establishing which insects are OK to eat, entomophagists have determined their nutritional merit. According to the Website, for instance, 100 grams of cricket contains 121 calories, 12.9 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of fat, 5.1 grams of carbohydrates, 75.8 milligrams of calcium, 185.3 milligrams of phosphorus, 9.5 milligrams of iron, 0.36 milligrams of thiamin, 1.09 milligrams of riboflavin, and 3.1 milligrams of niacin. Mmmm-mmm. On the other hand, the same amount of ground beef contains more protein (23.5 grams), but it also has 288.2 calories and a hefty 21.2 grams of fat.


Entomophagy workshop

Loxahatchee Preserve Nature Center, Northlake Boulevard one mile west of Beeline Highway, West Palm Beach

Saturday, May 6. Reservations are required. Cost is $1 for children and $3 for adults. Call 561-627-8831

The dietary value of bugs is painfully obvious, and there's no shortage of them. Yet the creatures have such a reputation for being ugly and slimy that most of us turn up our noses at the thought of dining on them. So it's up to folks like naturalist Debbie Fritz-Quincy to preach the gospel of a good bug meal, which she'll do during a May 6 seminar on the topic at Loxahatchee Preserve Nature Center in West Palm Beach. Samples are included, naturally.

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Fritz-Quincy herself was initially sickened by the idea of gorging on insects but changed her tune a few years back at a National Association For Interpretation conference. At the confab for naturalists and environmental educators in Beaumont, Texas, one of the discussions for which she had signed up was canceled, so she quickly scanned the schedule for a replacement. As a lark she slipped into the entomophagy lecture.

"I said, 'This sounds like fun, but I'm not eating anything,'" she recalls. Mealworms and crickets were on the menu that fateful day, and Quincy did indeed down a few specimens, er, culinary samples.

"Those are the first things I tried," she says. "I came out, and I was hooked, I guess. I had such a great time, I started doing research on it."

Fritz-Quincy now offers mealworms and crickets as sample fare at her entomophagy workshops. In order to ease beginners into this new realm of foodstuffs, she uses bugs slathered in chocolate. "We get our products from two companies, one in California and one in Louisiana," she says.

When introducing neophytes to the concept of bug consumption, Fritz-Quincy offers plenty of advice along with the samples. "If you are allergic to shellfish, you should avoid insects, because they are closely related," she warns. Also, she offers, "We don't encourage people to eat insects raw; there are only certain types that you do." Never eat an insect that feeds on dung, she adds, and be sure to remove stingers from bees and wasps.

Those seriously considering an insect diet need a solid education in which bugs are safe to ingest, and Fritz-Quincy directs interested parties to plenty of resources. One general rule of thumb is found in David George Gordon's indispensable The Eat a Bug Cookbook: "Red, orange or yellow/Forgo this small fellow/Black, green, or brown/Go ahead and toss him down."

Fritz-Quincy's bug buffet doesn't take place until the first weekend of May, but early registration is recommended. It's not as if the event is going to sell out, but she needs to know how many people will attend so that she can order enough food.

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