For most Westerners, the thought of eating a beetle or an ant triggers a gag reflex. We've been trained to hate and eliminate six-legged creatures of all kinds, even the ones that are good for us. But according to a recent U.N. report, our days of not eating six-legged creatures are probably over.
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"Peer pressure tastes crunchy."
Unless you're an unsupervised toddler or a contestant on Fear Factor, you're probably going out of your way to not let bugs down your gullet. But that's a specifically Western thing -- everyone else on the planet has been fine with eating insects for a while now. In fact, there's even a word for it -- "entomophagy." There are 36 African countries that are entomophagous, 29 in Asia, 23 in the Americas, and 11 in Europe. And remember, these guys are eating bugs on purpose. As in, there's a whole industry of bug harvesting and preparation thriving everywhere else but America. And that's good, because the U.N. thinks bugs are the missing ingredient in the recipe called "Not Letting Poor People Starve."
It used to be that when you picked a restaurant, your choices were Chinese, Mexican, Italian, or burgers. Fancy restaurants served man-sized portions, and no one would dream of putting foam on food. Fast forward to today, and everyone is an Iron Chef-educated foodie demanding exotic and interesting new ways to get sustenance. The U.N. wants to capture that passion by encouraging restaurants to create insect delicacies. And they're right -- if Americans see enough caterpillars on enough menus, we'll stop thinking it's weird. After all, someone had to make the first cornbread-battered hot dogs on a stick, right?
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Is this any grosser? Yes. But not by much.
The FDA already allows bits of bug parts and rat hair in your food -- just in tiny amounts. So unless you're a strictly organic, no-processed-foods-allowed-in-the-house kind of person, you've been ingesting insects all along. In fact, take a look:
The butt spikes are the best part.
That's a cochineal insect, which lives in cacti. When it's ground up, cochineals make an edible dye that has been used in everything from Starbucks coffee to ice cream. So not only are you already eating roach legs that accidentally slipped into your peanut butter, you're probably eating pulverized bugs that were knowingly included in your food. We might as well just go whole hog and recognize what we've been eating all along.
Somehow, despite all the stigma and resistance, some bugs actually taste pretty damn good. Cicadas, for example, spend 17 years eating a lot of tree sap, so they end up tasting like crunchy maple syrup. Bees that are still in their larva stage have a nice sweet aftertaste and have been compared to peanuts. Stinkbugs are said to have an apple flavor, which is far less fecal-y than we'd expect from something called "stinkbugs." If there's one thing we've learned over the last few decades, it's that Americans haven't met a flavor we won't pour down our throats.
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"Can we turn this into a Slurpee?"
Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. He can be found on Facebook.