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Bugs: Mmm-mmm Good!

On a typical Saturday or Sunday, Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History is a pretty popular place, but on the weekend of September 25–26, the venerable institution absolutely swarmed with parents and children. The attraction, however, wasn’t the dinosaurs, the dioramas, the rocks and minerals, the African masks, or any of the other objects on display. Rather, the crowds came for the arachnids—specifically, for a taste of “orthopteran orzo,” “scorpion scallopini,” and “white chocolate chip and waxworm cookies,” all washed down, of course, with “bug juice.”

The occasion was the Peabody’s first—and, to judge from the response, probably first annual—“Edible Insects Weekend.” This celebration of all things invertebrate was sponsored by People’s Bank and featured a wide range of activities for parents and children. Storytellers spun tales about Bernice the Bee and Anansi the Spider, museum curators hosted “bring your bugs in for identification” sessions, and forensic entomologist William Krinsky gave a lecture, for adults only, called “The Dead Can’t Talk, But Their Maggots Can.”

But the star of the show was chef David George Gordon, author of The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 1998), a tome that both explores and encourages the practice of entomophagy (eating insects and other creatures without backbones) through such recipes as Three Bee Salad, Really Hoppin' John, and Pest-O (garden weevils in a creamy basil sauce). For standing-room-only crowds, Gordon offered a three-course dinner to those with adventurous palates. As people eyed the crickets and pasta and other dishes that featured arachnids in a starring role, there were the expected choruses of “I’m not gonna eat that,” and “ewwwww.” Such comments did not, however, stop the feast.

“We didn’t throw anything out,” says Evelyn E. Willett, a teacher at the Peabody who coordinated the weekend event and baked the waxworm cookies, whose main ingredient came from an insect farm and tasted “rather like a pistachio nut.”

The appeal of the unusual fare did not surprise Charles L. Remington, professor Emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology and one of the world’s experts on entomophagy. “People eat insects regularly in almost all parts of the globe except this country,” says Remington. “They can be an important source of protein.”

Several years ago, the scientist had a chance to host his own bug dinner. The occasion was the much-heralded emergence of the periodical cicada, an insect that spends the first 17 years of its life underground before taking to the trees for a brief adulthood. When a reporter asked why the creature spent so much time underground, Remington replied that it was a survival strategy.

“This is the most tasty insect in the world,” he explained. Remington meant “tasty to blue jays and robins,” but members of the media thought he was referring to humans. Never one to shy away from an experiment, the scientist stir-fried a batch of fresh cicadas. The response was similar to that of the hungry crowds at the Peabody. “At least half of the reporters came back for seconds,” says Remington.  the end


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