Yes, bug me

February 26, 2013

I read in a New Yorker magazine last year about the number of cultures on the planet which ate insects. It was a surprisingly large number. And just yesterday on TED I watched a talk about the same thing, but the speaker said that 80% of the present world population eats bugs. 

When you think about it, primates, of whom we homo sapiens are members, eat insects all the time, in the air, in the trees, on the ground, and underground by digging the little creatures up. For sure, very early humans ate insects. Much easier to catch and more nutritious than other mammals. 

A lot of insects are nearly pure protein. One of my print students, Ken Sallitt, who is a bee keeper, told me a few days ago about his experiences in Canada, where he lives when not wintering in Japan. He has to keep away the bears who like to eat the bees in his hives. I and the others present assumed that this was because the bears loved the sweet honey. Wrong, said Ken. The bears are after the grubs, the pupa in the hives, because these are 100% protein. The honey is simply an extra bonus, not strictly what the animal is after. Quite eye opening. 

Here are photos of, first, the adult grasshopper, 
 and its young.

Here in Japan, insect eating is not an unknown habit. Another student's girlfriend comes from Nagano Pref, up in the Japan Alps. There, eating grasshoppers and their pupa is common. When Miss Aya returns to Kyoto from a visit to her hometown, she brings a jar or a sack of prepared grasshoppers and the young, as you can see above. Not raw and kicking. The Japanese are not that close to our primate stage now. These insects are prepared in a sauce made of some sweetener and soy. Perhaps they are first cooked, or boiled, then cooled and eaten. The pupa taste like shrimp; the adults have their own, delicious taste, and the added crunch of the legs. 

I don't know about other insects, but I will begin investigating this. With a projected global population of 5 billion by the year 2050, we had better begin following the wisdom of the ancients and look to the bugs for our protein and minerals. 

Earthworms, anyone?


  1. Interesting... Have you actually tasted any insects?

  2. Yes, once, one day in the 80s in the deep mountains of northern Tochigi at a place called Yunishikawa, I was treated to minced earthworms (with a trace of wild garlic). They had - how shall I put it? - plenty of bounce!


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