- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Sure you have.
Insect fragments are in just about all the foods we eat, from chocolate to coffee to wheat flour to pizza sauce to beer and more. An insect control company estimates that we eat, on the average, 140,000 "bug bits" every year. (See Business Insider.)
But now you can REALLY eat a bug. And experience the joy and adventure of eating a new and exciting kind of protein.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology is hosting an open house themed "Gobble, Gobble, Munch, Munch, Crunch: Entomophagy,” from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Open to the public, it's free and family friendly, said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
“The theme is entomophagy and we have some samples from various companies coming our way,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. Companies providing samples include Hotlix, Exo and Chirps Chips.
"Just think of insects as terrestrial shrimp or crab," said senior museum scientist Steve Heydon.
In preparation for the event, Bohart Museum volunteer Iris Bright, a second-year biology major at Sacramento City College, sampled crickets, mealworms and earthworms last week.
Bright liked them all. “They're good,” she said, as she tasted red, green and blue earthworms. She described them as having "a sweet and sour taste." The mealworms? “Somewhat cheesy.”
“The crickets are crunchy," she said, adding "I've had them before.”
Bright, who plans to obtain a degree in biology and a field ecology certificate and then her master's degree, joined the Bohart Museum of Entomology/Folsom Lake College team that recently collected insects in Belize. She's studied with Belize bioblitz team leader Fran Keller, an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College who received her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis.
Eighty percent of the world population, including those living in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, consume insects as a high protein source. Some 1700 species of insects are edible.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has registered some 1,900 edible insect species and estimates that there were, in 2005, some two billion insect consumers worldwide. FAO suggests eating insects as a possible solution to environmental degradation caused by livestock production. Insects and arachnids eaten globally include crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, various beetle grubs (such as mealworms, the larvae of the darkling beetle, various species of caterpillars (such as bamboo worms, Mopani worms, silkworms and waxworms), scorpions and tarantulas, according to Wikipedia.
Spencer Michels in a PBS News Hour report in May 2017, commented: “But the big advantage of eating insects is that they are generally healthier than meat. A six-ounce serving of crickets has 60 percent less saturated fat and twice as much vitamin B-12 than the same amount of ground beef. ..Bugs also don't spread disease to humans the way cows — think mad cow disease– or pigs can.”
“I do realize that insects do have a bad rap,” California Academy of Sciences entomologist Brian Fisher recently said. “Most people see insects are pests or as dangerous. But it's just the opposite. Insects are less dangerous and less of a problem for humans in terms of disease."
“We do have concerns about disease jumping from animals like pigs and cows to humans,” Fisher said. “But there are no worries about a disease jumping from an insect to humans. The more evolutionary distant we are from our food source, the less danger there is. … There is almost zero chance that any disease that affects an insect could actually impact a human after it's cooked.”
Celebrity bug chef David George Gordon, author of the “Eat-a-Bug” cookbook, extolled the virtues of the “bugs as food” movement when he addressed a UC Davis audience in 2014 at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Insects are an environmentally friendly source of protein, he said, and bug farming reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is exponentially more water-efficient than farming for beef, chicken, or pigs.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum. It maintains a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks or stick insects, tarantulas, and praying mantids. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (See list of open houses for the 2019-2020 academic year.)