Eating Bugs and Born Agains


Look at those eyes… we should all be so brave

Though it still comes as a surprise to most American children, it is hardly groundbreaking to say that in twenty years we will all be regular eaters of bugs.  But why wait twenty years?  Two billion people already regularly supplement their diets with insects of one kind or another.

What’s in a fish stick?  A hot dog?  Scrapple?  Would we even have to pink slime  our insect burgers, or could we lubricate our patties with natural slime from slugs or grubs?  It’s not like our other food is held to a particularly pristine standard.  As in, we’re already eating bugs pretty regularly, and not the three spiders that crawl into your mouth every night while you’re asleep.  (Which apparently, doesn’t actually happen.)


But that’s looking at all this far too negatively.  Plenty of current delicacies once suffered from a poorly marketed carapace.[1]  And what’s better than struggling to change something that’s difficult (for example, insisting on sterner regulations to prevent larvae and fecal matter from sneaking into our canned goods)?  Embracing what we already have and calling that change.  More good news—pioneers among the big-city entomophags even now chart our course…

-Teaching and tasting mingle at the Bug Appétit, at the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans.

– The wonderfully named Don Bugito’s Pre-Hispanic Snackeria in San Francisco

Toloache fries grasshoppers in New York

-At La Oaxequena you can get tarantula meat, but only in season (that tarantulas were only seasonally available surprised me, but it’s yours, truly’s lack of knowledge that would have surprised Dan Stefanisko, a ranger at Mount Diablo, who believes that “Everyone knows when tarantula season is.”  He in fact considers the information so common that he actually doesn’t share it, but another tarantula article suggested it was autumn, which is a word that shouldn’t be associated with the west coast, unless to say something along the lines of, ‘We don’t have autumn here.’)

And the marketing copy writes itself: a bunch of guys at a bar, one of them reaches into the appetizer basket, munches down, and after waiting a dramatic second, says: ‘Well, it’s better than soy.’  Screw the vegetarians, appeal to our machismo, but that’s only one angle, and there are more elevated options: ‘I’m too poor to buy meat regularly, and I worry that my children are getting enough protein with every meal.

So then, if all this bug-eating is so common, and so preordained, why bother with all this obnoxious blogging?  Because bugs aren’t our best answer.  (Though eating bugs might help stop this epidemic.)

One animal that appears in even less danger of extinction than the black ant or dung beetle is the Turritopsis nutricula – the immortal reproducing jellyfish.  Now, what’s that about immortality[2], one would certainly want to know, if they were not already following scientists like Shin Kubota, magnificent man[3], who for years have dug into the small jellies in hopes of unlocking the secret to eternal life[4].

Others, like Maria Miglietta[5], see the potential of a Sharknado-esque problem in these jellyfish—a worldwide silent invasion, she famously dubbed the encroaching hydrozoans[6].  Others think Kubota’s off-the-mark, considering the hydra[7] a better study, as its immortality is achieved less spectacularly, and thus (they argue) more accessibly, than the Benjamin Button jellyfish.

But what we have is not another apocalyptic scenario, nor a sponge of youth, but in the Turritopsis nutricula, at long last, a truly sustainable food source (and that second word’s resemblance to nutrition makes you think of food, right?).  Think about it: swallow one small jellyfish, and you could be eating all of your food for the entire day (or week, or month, as your gastric acids could ‘kill’ the jellyfish again and again, allowing for a cycle of constant digestion that would put Julio Franco’s seven daily meals to shame).


[1] ‘Up until sometime in the 1800s, though, lobster was literally low-class food, eaten only by the poor and institutionalized.  Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats.’ – Consider the Lobster (237-8)

[2] If a mature Turritopsis is threatened — injured or starving, for example — it attaches itself to a surface in warm ocean waters and converts into a blob. From that state, its cells undergo transdifferentiation, in which the cells essentially transform into different types of cells. Muscle cells can become sperm or eggs, or nerve cells can change into muscle cells… revealing a transformation potential unparalleled in the animal kingdom. (from the NYT)

[3] Same article, really, well worth it…

[4] Though longevity articles are invariably titled as searches for such, one hopes there are also some other, smaller goals.

[5] Variously of Notre Dame, Pennsylvania State, and the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute, depending on the source, but always a doctor.

[6] If something is going to rise up and overthrow us, don’t you feel like you’d have a better chance with jellyfish than with robots?  I know that I do.

[7] That’s the small, freshwater, but still regenerative variety, not the Lernaean Hydra, created by Hera and placed at an entrance to the Underworld to kill Hercules (far more intimidating than its ancient partner in violent fate, the giant crab, that Hercules easily crushed underfoot).  You’ve got to be pretty deep in your mythology to think that an oversized crab (but not so big that it wasn’t dispatched in the traditional manner) could menace a hero on the same order as a fire-breathing dragon whose many heads regenerated.  (Although maybe, the crab was chosen as the dragon’s partner because its arms also regenerate, after it sloughs off its shell?  Anyway, the hydra and the crab dance together in the heavens, plenty of partnerships fall short of that.)

Why dont we eat insects