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Do I Dare To Eat A Bug?

When you sit down to dinner tonight, chances are you won’t be digging in to meal worms or crickets or any other insects. But if Montpelier environmentalist Rachael Young has her way, you just might.

Young is on a mission to, as she puts it, "educate the Western public" and dispel the taboo that hovers over the consumption of insects. "Because most of the world eats bugs, it's clear that [they're] a real food," she told Vermont Edition's RicCengeri. Not only are insects a viable source of protein, Young says, but raising them is less resource-intensive than raising animals for meat. And the taste is starting to catch on. "Insects are the new darlings of the avant-garde food world," NPR recently proclaimed.

Young arrived to her interview with a platter of insect confections for sampling, and discussed why and how bugs can make excellent, and even tasty, meals. 

On the argument for eating bugs

"?Human populations continue to increase, and the pressure is higher than ever on our wild spaces to keep up with food production ... A UN report found that livestock generated higher emissions than transport ... As one of my mentors, Dave Gracer, likes to say, cows are SUVs, and bugs are possibly bicycles.

"A lot of Westerners find that eating bugs is repulsive, and actually we're the minority. More than 80 percent of the world eats insects." - Rachael Young

"A lot of Westerners find that eating bugs is repulsive, and actually we're the minority. More than 80 percent of the world eats insects. I find swimming in high levels of e-coli from cow manure in ... rivers to be unpalatable, personally, and factory farms roving the oceans, extracting what's left in our no-longer-productive seas, to be really tragic. So diversifying our protein creation is really important."

On how to prepare tasty bugs

"It depends on what type of bug you're preparing.  So, if you're preparing tarantulas, they have hairs that you need to remove. If you're preparing a scorpion, you probably want to remove the stinging tail, and if you're preparing crickets, I like to remove the legs. I think crickets have a nice bite without the legs. Mealworms, they're ready to go.

"Obviously the easiest way that you could eat [insects] is to put chocolate on them. And in fact I am working with a local chocolatier, Nutty Steph's, to create truffles with insects in them."

"If you're preparing tarantulas, they have hairs that you need to remove. If you're preparing a scorpion, you probably want to remove the stinging tail, and if you're preparing crickets, I like to remove the legs."

On educating the public, especially children

"Adding edible insects to our tables refreshes agricultural environmental education, and it encourages the foraging of pests, which could lower our pesticide use. It increases local knowledge and stewardship of biodiversity. I've found that it's been really interesting to do outreach to the public through children … They don't have the cultural barriers that we've created for ourselves around eating insects. They're ready and willing."

On sourcing insect ingredients

"As edible insects become more popular in Western culture, we'll see more bug ranches pop up, I'm sure. But that this point they're ranched in Louisiana for a company in Austin, Texas called World Entomophagy. They kill them through a process called 'good karma killing' – their term. What that means is they lower the body temperature of the insects. [It's] very similar to a natural process that would put the insects into a torpor, and then they let them stay frozen long enough that they reach mortality."

On expanding the insect cookery

"We're really starting to go more deeply into dish creation, rather than [preparing] edible insects as a snack. We've done polenta with mealworms, which is really nice, chocolate-chirp cookies is a popular one. You really can use [bugs] as a meat base, and you can also use them as a texture provider and a fiber."

On community and opportunity

"We really hope to educate the Western public and start to normalize this in people's homes and on people's plates in restaurants. We really encourage people to try cooking bugs themselves and to share that with their community.

"We really hope to educate the Western public and start to normalize this in people's homes and on people's plates in restaurants."

"This also provides an economic opportunity where people could be using raising bugs, which are much more sustainable – they take far less resources, a fraction of the water – to raise, and that could be used as a feed for animals and also as a food.

"Locally, we hope to continue our outreach and have fun doing environmental education. We encourage interested parties to contact us."

Rachael Young will speak about edible bugs at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Montpelier on Feb. 7, 2014 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.eatyummybugs.com.

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