Eating Bugs

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Over the long haul, I think of myself as being pretty committed to the now almost quaint-seeming idea of ‘reducing my carbon footprint.’ Actually, if this blog has been about anything over the past 11 years, it’s been about that commitment. When I started out, I drew some lines for myself. I decided I’d work on reducing rather than recycling. I decided I’d focus on cutting back on my transportation footprint rather than focusing so much on my food footprint. I’ve gone through stretches where I committed not to buy anything new–but I was careful to draw boundaries in that case too:
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When you start down the personal carbon footprint reduction path, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important–the collective action humanity must race to take in order to slow the pace of climate disaster. I’ve tried not to let my personal climate commitment get in the way of my ability to speak for collective commitment– and reciprocally, to ensure that my personal actions are aligned adequately so that my advocacy for collective action doesn’t seem like hypocrisy.

So I gotta give a big virtual high-5 to my crazy husband Andy, whose recent insistence that we should become bug eaters as a way of climate adapting our diet successfully destabilized sense of balance I felt I’d achieved with my personal climate commitments. I’d always given myself a bit of a pass on aligning my diet with climate action–I’ve never cared for dietary restrictions or taboos, they just seemed to get in the way of the camaraderie of social eating. Last May, after watching “Cowspiracy,” I was told that our family needed to become vegetarian (maybe vegan) for climate purposes. I’d kind of known this all along, and so I agreed that we could become something like flexitarians– vegetarian at home, but willing to eat whatever in social contexts. For me personally, it wasn’t a difficult shift. I’ve gotten kind of tired of chicken, and we typically don’t buy red meat anyway for cost reasons. I haven’t figured out how to make our kids’ diet fully vegetarian, but I’ve managed to stick to it myself.

The bigger challenge was Andy, whose fast metabolism and frequent bicycling up the hills of Los Angeles was starting to wither away his manly stature in the absence of the protein and fat meat had added to his diet. Andy was teaching a class on sustainability in the food system, and through his research got really interested in the possibilities of replacing the missing protein and calories in his diet with land invertebrates– known to the rest of us as bugs. Through my own work, I”d been introduced to a company “Slightly Nutty,” that was trying to solve the problem of surplus organic food waste by feeding it to crickets, which could then be used for animal feed or human consumption. It turned out that the proprietor of Slightly Nutty had recently shut his doors in favor of pursuing his career as a marine biologist–but he did turn us on to some of our very own local cricket farmers, three young guys from Maine that moved west and started raising crickets for human consumption in a warehouse in the valley (you can see a video Andy’s student’s made about Coalo Valley Farms here.)

So we drove out to the valley on a Sunday as a family– and came back with a pound or two of frozen crickets. Generally, Coalo Valley farms presents there wares in a pre-cooked and ground format, sometimes even hand dipped in chocolate for occasions like the Los Angeles Natural History Museum Bug Fair. Because Andy was intending to feed his crickets to the students in his lecture class, though, we needed quite a number of them. In order to prep the crickets for roasting, they first needed to be dried. What better than the hot valley sun + the solar oven of our car? So the crickets dried in the back window of the car while we went to the Valley Ciclavia.
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At home that night, it was my job to roast the crickets. Andy had gotten out a number of bug cookbooks (yes, bug cookbooks) from the library, including the “Eat a Bug” cookbook and one called “Entertaining with Insects.” I actually used the recipe for “Dry Roasted Crickets” on page 120 of the latter, which basically recommended baking for 1-2 hours at 225 degrees. I added olive oil, salt and pepper. Everything seemed to be going well until I got hit with the smell. AS a kid, I was an avid keeper of frogs and salamanders– and the smell of roasting crickets really brought me back to the smell of the reptile section of my childhood pet store– that smell of mossy wetness mixed with the baking incandescent lights. Fortunately, a pound or two of roasted crickets go a long way, and I haven’t been called upon to cook more.

From there it was history– Andy’s students enjoyed the roasted crickets the next day, as did Lakers basketball star Metta World Peace–who you can see enjoying a cricket in this video.

While I have been somewhat eager to back pedal from frequent bug consumption, Andy seems increasingly committed to the idea of making them a more routine part of our diet. In addition to adding cricket powder to cookies and pancakes, he stopped off the other day on the way home and got himself a takeout box full of chili-lime chapulines at a Oaxacan eatery on Venice Blvd.

For me its a little hard to accept the fact that its come to this. How does this voluntary action square with the fact that at any time I can walk a block down the street and get a pint of vanilla haagen dazs to eat instead? When Andy started on this journey, I had hoped it was mostly rhetorical… something like “if we don’t do the easy stuff on climate action, then we’re going to end up having to do the hard stuff… i.e., living on a diet of bugs.”

Now it seems that we’re taking it more seriously than all that, and actually contemplating getting a meal worm farm and maybe starting up some cricket cultivation. I always get more excited about a project when it’s ‘grow your own,’ so I’m hoping that the possibility of running my own “tiny farm’ of protein animals might make me more excited about the possibilities.

Writ large, I feel like this is a pretty big dose of ‘be careful what you wish for.” You get your life partner started on something like carbon footprint reduction, and you never know where it will lead. Ultimately I hope that this latest personal experiment will at least serve to open a discourse about our options. Maybe instead of having to switch to crickets, I could just forgo the Haagen Dazs and call it even? If nothing else, its put a finer point on the diet angle of what it means to be climate adapted.

And in the meantime, I’m trying to learn to enjoy them. The flavor isn’t bad, but I think the challenge for me is seeing the entire body/corpse of something as I”m putting it into my mouth–I’m just not culturally adapted to do that, no matter what the animal is. My secret: bury them in something else beautiful (see delicious leftover cuisine from Azla Vegan in Los Angles pictured).

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