The facts are these: Insects are one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable sources of edible protein, and are enjoyed as such by many cultures as part of a nutritious meal. One hundred grams of silkworm larvae, for example, provides 100 percent of a person’s daily zinc and iron requirements.
But for most Americans, when push comes to shove – when those silkworms are staring out from a plateful of worm-and-mushroom risotto – facts fly out the window to make room for baser revulsion and fear.
Members of Environmental Discourses on the Ingestion of Bugs League (EDIBL), a new student group on campus, argue that this fear stems from nothing more than irrational social conditioning (crustaceans are basically the insects of the sea, right?). They argue that this conditioning can, and should, be reversed.
And so on Nov. 13, EDIBL prepared a special bug-tasting dinner for 25 brave and lucky Princeton students (the author included) in the hopes of winning converts to its cause.
The aforementioned risotto didn’t appear until more than halfway through the seven-course meal, served small-plate-style in the Campus Club dining room. First up from EDIBL head chef (and president) Rena Chen ’11 were less threatening warm-up dishes like mealworm-sprinkled bruschetta.
While these tiny, fried bugs got sustainability points for being raised in Chen’s Spelman Hall dorm room, they were surprisingly bland. “Meh,” one student remarked. “I guess that’s why they call them waxworms.”
Next up was escamole (Mexican ant pupae) ceviche with onion and avocado. Escamoles, it turns out, taste like smoked ham (with the added excitement of what one might call the “chew-and-burst” effect). No wonder they’re a popular addition to burritos south of the border.
By this point in the meal, something like culinary Stockholm syndrome had set in among diners. Sure, the silkworms in the risotto looked larger and more forbidding than the insects that had preceded them – but once you’ve eaten six bugs, what’s one or two more?
Dessert was a once-in-17-year treat: cicadas collected outside McCarter Theater in 2004 (the last active period of the species’ lifecycle) on top of honey panna cotta. Melecia Wright ’11 ate the bugs but skipped the dairy treat below. “I hate milk,” she said. “It’s just gross.”
One more course – giant water bug, which tasted uncannily like an apple Jolly Rancher – and then it was all over. Twenty-five students left the meal as eaters reborn: if not full converts to bug-munching, then at least newly unafraid.
David Walter ’11 writes for PAW’s On the Campus column and is the president of the University Press Club.