One of the more common responses to the question of whether or not one would, under pain of death, eat insects, is to look at the person posing the question as if s/he had grown a second -- particularly unattractive, at that -- head while crying out “ew!” and looking as if vomiting is a definite possibility.
Fair enough. I guess. But what if I told you that you already are eating insects, and that you have always been?
To be fair, in the earliest stages of our research into entomophagy, I have to admit I was pretty grossed out at the thought of literally eating bugs too. I actually am, and always have been, quite a fan of insects (as well as of turkey vultures, rodents, and the creature from Alien; Morticia comparisons have been made), but that doesn’t really equate to me having felt comfortable eating them. I logically knew that seafood, which I adore, is basically ocean bugs, and that should have made me feel a little better about it but somehow it didn’t.
What did help, oddly, was the day that I found out that I had been eating insects all along.
I came to this sort-of accidentally, after we had started talking entomophagy; around the time that our son was born but before we’d really gotten into it, by means of one of those meme/infographics that are constantly being passed around some of the natural living/hippie groups that I belong to, warning that a certain high-end coffee shop that is quite popular in North America was putting insects into their drinks.
The horror. The horror.
It turns out this claim is actually mostly true, if woefully misrepresented. There is a common natural red dye used in food colouring, cosmetics, and fabric called Carmine, which is made from the dried, powdered and treated bodies of the female Cochineal, a cactus-eating insect that resides in tropical and subtropical climates. Those allergic to crustaceans will already be familiar with this, as the Cochineal is closely enough related that the dye can be problematic for allergy sufferers, and I can imagine is a source of on-going frustration as the clamour for natural food dyes (which Carmine most certainly is) grows.
The irony of the inclusion of a meme suggesting that a natural if insect-based product in your drinks are a problem, given that I found it on a natural living group, has not escaped me. I guess natural living only includes things that are non-gross.
But, overall, I didn’t feel terribly put out by knowing that, and I took that as promising.
In addition to Carmine, it turns out, we’re apparently also regularly eating excreted bug resin every time we eat a shiny shelled candy treat (a particular weakness of mine) in the form of shellac (used in both cars and candies, apparently) and we’re all familiar of course with honey, that delicious sweet syrup given to us from pollen processed by cute buzzy little honey bees.
Below are a selection of some of my personal favourite foods and the legal limit of bug bits they’re allowed to contain by law in the United States, according to this. Never fear, my fellow Canucks; I am in the process of trying to find the Canadian variant of this document, and am waiting on a response from the government (addendum will be added when I hear back), but in the interim:
- Fewer than 30 insect parts per 10 grams of allspice
- Fewer than 5 whole insects or equivalent of parts in 100 grams of apple butter
- Less than 5% insect parts per weight in ground cinnamon
- Less than 10% insect parts per weight in coffee beans
- Fewer than 225 bug parts per 225 grams of macaroni and noodle products
- Fewer than 30 insect parts per 100 grams of peanut butter
- Fewer than 75 insect parts per 100 grams of wheat flour
Now, in fairness, these are the legal limits. I’m not convinced that any company in the world is intentionally trying to get away with putting in every last insect bit possible into their product, and what you’re actually eating is likely far lower than that the legal allowable amount. Still, realistically, 1 - 2 % of your diet is comprised, already, of insects.
And your meals have been delicious (some of them, anyway); the world didn’t end and you didn’t die of disgust and insects haven’t gestated in your tummy in horror movie fashion. No promises if you try any of the fauna to be found on LV-426, though.