I’ve had a lot of laughs the past couple of days imagining the following scenario. On his desk at work, my partner has a wooden candy dispenser with a jar on top containing M&M’s. I imagine putting a few roasted crickets in the jar, then watching an unsuspecting co-worker dispense a few candies. They’d peer curiously into their palm and say something like, “hmm, a red one, a green one, a yellow one, and… oh my god what’s THAT!” This isn’t an entirely hypothetical scenario, because I have two packets of roasted whole crickets on my kitchen table right now: Moroccan and barbecue.
They came in a parcel along with 113g of powdered cricket, the products of an innovative and far-thinking insect farm not too far from Toronto. Each year I like to do something on my birthday that I’ve never done before, attending the funeral of a stranger, meditating in a floatation tank, and this year I wanted to cook with insects. More people in the world eat them than don’t, and I’m curious about pushing my comfort level in this uncomfortable direction.
I did some superficial research, and decided on a recipe for cricket macaroons. Although I didn’t choose the recipe for this reason, it’s a non-bake one, but really, I’m not sure cooking would ease the ick factor much.
The cricket flour was the last ingredient to go in. The smell when I opened it would have evoked breakfast cereal, if I hadn’t known what it was, or at least what it had been: vaguely nutty. The crickets were ground incredibly fine. I’m not a connoisseur of flours, but it was indistinguishable in texture from your standard all-purpose variety, perhaps a little toward cornstarch, but thinking back now, maybe I didn’t examine it as closely as I might have.
I had far more awareness of this substance as having once been a living thing than I usually do handling animal products in cooking, which is non-rational, because cricket powder looks entirely unlike anything in the animal kingdom. And yet, there were probably thousands of little organisms in that bag. But then there’s yogurt. Eating a whole colony of bacteria doesn’t phase me, unless I think about it too long.
When I think about insects it’s often with the vague sense of thousands of them making up one collective organism, like bees in a hive, or ants…. This sense didn’t help ease the creep-out factor of handling powdered dead bugs. I only started to forget about what it was once it had been incorporated into the rest of the ingredients. I think my subconscious was comforted by believing that the entire colony had been drowned or smothered.
When friends showed up a few hours later, the macaroons were nicely chilled. I offered them along side the whole roasted seasoned crickets. Reactions continued the non-rational theme for the day. The only one to conclusively decline a roasted cricket, ate three macaroons. A friend who I know for a fact has eaten things that were still living, had to swallow the roasted cricket whole in order to get it down at all. It helped that I’d had a glass of wine already perhaps, but eating the roasted cricket was kind of a non-event. It’s true I’ve been thinking about it a lot and trying to accustom myself to the idea, and working with the powder first helped. That said, there are lots of roasted whole crickets and macaroons left, and I have to say, it’s just not where my mind goes when I’m feeling peckish.
It’s not like I thought to myself, “mmm, I really feel like sinking my teeth into an exoskeleton,” or something. It was more a desire to push myself past my comfort zone. There’s lots of information out there explaining the ways in which insect protein is way more sustainable than other animal protein food items, and with the global population growing at the current rate, it may be the way we’ll all be eating eventually. There are some practical applications for it now, but because it’s not mass produced yet, it’s not the most economical way to get your protein. Living where and when I do, I have an unprecedented range of food choices. I think it’s a worthwhile experiment to bring cold reason to bear on choices which I normally make emotionally. Insects are creepy and disgusting; that’s my emotional response to them. I definitely won’t be reaching for the barbecued insects if there’s a bowl of potato chips nearby, but I’m glad that I forced myself to confront and conquer the worst of my phobia about them.