Why You Should be Eating Bugs and Other Gross Things

Reader Contribution by Jason Drevenak
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When we go to a grocery store and think about shelling out big bucks for a lobster or crab, or grabbing some plastic-wrapped chicken cutlets for that matter, we are stepping on and driving around a lot of food. Whether it’s roadkill, weeds or insects, our western culture has taught us to eat all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons.  I’ll give you three reasons you should be eating grosser food, but let’s also think about the reasons we shouldn’t eat the shiny, hermetically sealed, marketed and processed stuff that’s at the supermarket.  There are always exceptions, if you’re willing to put out big bucks, you can get meat that isn’t factory farmed in horrible conditions or pumped full of chemicals and hormones.  You can get vegetables that aren’t saturated with insecticides and fertilizers.  You can even find potato chips without elephant-endangering palm oil.  Those things are great but quite expensive and there are very good arguments that terms like “organic” and “free range” aren’t necessarily what we think they are.  “But,” you are about to say, “roadkill, crickets and weeds? Nasty!”  

Reasons you should eat grosser food:

  • You’re already eating bugs!  The USDA allows up to 150 insect body parts (or excrement) per 1/2 cup of wheat flour and 925 fragments in 3 tablespoons of ground thyme.  The list goes on and on.  The average person eats more than a pound of insects per year by accident! Frankly, I prefer eating bugs to the lingering toxicity of the pesticides used to keep them away. Not to mention the fact that when you eat lobster or crab, that’s an underwater cricket, not a fish!
  • It’s Everywhere. Talk about abundance, insects make up nearly 90% of the life forms on earth, roadkill is a nuisance and weeds… well weeds are what you use to make metaphors about abundance. Wild (gross) food is everywhere, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
  • It’s Not Actually Gross, it’s Wild. Bear with me here.  American and European standards of “gross” were formed before we knew how diseases were transmitted.  Other places around the world, after all, eat things we think are gross all the time.  The Bubonic plague and other outbreaks of disease lead us to suspect bugs and rodents of being diseased.  Some insects do muddle in dung, but so do chickens and pigs.  Just as you wouldn’t eat raw chicken, you wouldn’t eat a raw dung beetle.  Proper cooking, we now know, kills disease-carrying pathogens (that can sometimes be carried around by certain insects), so nothing to worry about.  As for road kill, if you get to it in sufficient time, it is no different than a deer that has been hunted for food.  The main difference is that insects, weeds and roadkill live full and free lives right up until the moment of their demise, unlike our farmed sources of protein.

 At my school we teach a very popular Wild Food Weekend that introduces people to foraging and gross cuisine.  There are tons of arguments for eating wild, like not wasting road kill protein or eating lower on the food web that I also find convincing.  In the end though, my draw towards wild food is not intellectual.  I feel better knowing where my food comes from.  I know where I got it, what it looked and smelled like, what I did with it after collecting it and there’s a connection from me to my food and to its food that goes on and on.  It’s so hard to have that feeling in the deli section of the Food Lion staring through a sneeze guard at overpriced marine bugs.

Please Note: Collecting wild food and roadkill requires some expertise.  There are things you absolutely need to know before heading out.  You should take some classes, read some books, and check your state and local laws.