About 200 years ago, the lobster was regarded by most Americans as a filthy, bottom-feeding scavenger unfit for consumption by civilized people. Frequently ground up and used as fertilizer, the crustacean was, at best, poor people’s food. In fact, in some colonies, the lobster was the subject of laws—laws that forbade feeding it to prisoners more than once a week because that was “cruel and unusual” treatment.
This is the opening paragraph of Josh Schonwald’s Slate piece that discusses insects as a viable source of nutrition for human beings. As someone who does not like lobster, I love this paragraph. The food that people are willing to pay six dollars a pound to eat, basically as a result of its scarcity, was once considered unfit for human consumption because of the ease by which it could be acquired.
Despite how much you might profess your love for the taste of lobster, taste is not the only factor at work here. If lobster were as plentiful as it was 200 years ago, it would cost a penny a pound and you would be feeding it to your least favorite dog.
Should we be surprised? Name another food that is almost always dipped in butter? If lobster were really so tasty, why would you mask its taste with melted butter?
I love mentioning this fact to lobster lovers and watching their reaction. Some simply ignore my statement entirely, while others attempt to rationalize this unfortunate fact by explaining that the way we prepare lobster today (dropping a living creature into a boiling pot of water) is different than how it was prepared two centuries ago, therefore changing the taste entirely.
Schonwald brings up this fact about lobster (one I first learned year ago in a Bill Bryson book) to point out that attitudes about food can change over time, which is something many people are hoping for when it comes to eating insects.
Schonwald believes that two food sources that strike many as unpalatable—insects and seaweed—could play a critical role in not only feeding the 2.5 billion extra humans expected by 2050, but doing so in a green, climate-friendly way.
Many insects are what you might call superfood—rich in protein, low in fat and cholesterol, high in essential vitamins and minerals like calcium and iron. More important, insects are green super-foods. Bugs are cold-blooded (they don’t waste energy to stay warm), so they’re far more efficient at converting feed to meat than cattle or pigs.
I was once a consumer of insects. As a Boy Scout, I learned wilderness survival training while at camp one summer. Included in my training was the identification and consumption of insects that are nutritionally viable to human beings.
I ate a grasshopper, a cricket, and a large, black ant, which did not taste like a blueberry as promised but was not too bad.
Not only was I required to eat these insects, but I was also required to locate them in the forest and prepare them for consumption.
In the case of crickets and grasshoppers, this meant removing the rear legs lest they trigger your gag reflex on the way down.
In the case of the ants, we were taught to pop their heads off to prevent them from biting on the way down.
It sounds disgusting, but I was a fourteen year old boy at the time, so I loved gross things and was basically an idiot.
Most important, insect consumption was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of my wilderness survival training. In the event of an apocalypse, I am going to kick ass.
And probably eat a lot of bugs.