The bowl was set on the table in front of me next to the bottle of beer with a metallic clink. My mind did not even bother to process what it was that had been set in front of me; I was looking out over the Gulf of Thailand, talking, drinking and having fun. Besides, who would set anything other than peanuts in front of someone at a bar?
My hand goes into the bowl to pick up one small object to send it hurtling into my mouth with the unerring aim of a man who has spent much of his life throwing food down his gullet. As it hits my tongue, something seems off. The peanut seems too soft somehow, and has a strange metallic flavor to it. I wash it down with a swig of beer and pick up the bowl. Crickets…
This was my introduction to the art of eating insects, or entomophagy. In some areas of Thailand, insects are an extremely popular snack, and are sold from street carts and in restaurants. To be completely honest, there are few snacks you can eat at a bar that are better tasting and more healthy than crispy crickets dusted with salt and chili pepper or giant locusts; you just need to remember to remove the legs and head.
Since that first introduction, I have continued to eat insects at least occasionally, and found that they are a healthy, tasty, and high-protein addition to my diet. With only 121 calories per 100 grams of crickets (vs 567 calories for a comparable snack food, peanuts), it is clear to see how they are a good addition to the diet for a man waging a personal war against fat. Also, unlike peanuts or crisps (for all my British MAN v FAT friends), it is almost impossible to eat crickets non-stop.
Recently, I was introduced to an excellent Thai delicacy from Northern Thailand that is essentially young wasps and termites with a few giant ants, cooked with lemongrass and chili peppers and served over rice, you can see that particular dish above. In addition to being delicious, it was far and away healthier than the alternative stir-fried chicken or beef. Available seasonally, this delicacy is something I would happily eat any day of the year.
Many of us coming from Western cultures have been raised on steady diets of “meat and potatoes,” and have been told that they are healthy, balanced diets. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these things, other cultures around the world live with radically different diets and lifestyles that we can learn from. While eating insects is seen by us as a strange thing to do, they are, gram for gram, some of the best protein available. Companies such as Bitty Foods in San Francisco have been pioneering a baked-goods industry in which cricket flour is substituted for grain flour, making cookies which are protein rich, sustainable, gluten-free and far better for you than their alternative.
Over the past century, the food choices available in the Western world have exploded in a decidedly negative way. We have the ability to transform our diets from the steady stream of junk food, to which so many are accustomed, to an entirely different and decidedly broader global culinary adventure. It is up to us to make decisions about the future of our waistlines and our planet, and the best option might be a little more creepy-crawly than we initially suspected.