A (Brief, Not That Weird) Night of Eating Bugs

October 28, 2016

Since Wednesday morning, I've been staving off an indeterminate bout of sickness. I’ve felt awfully disoriented and clammy upon stepping outside, and I'm not sure why. A friend believes it’s because I ate bugs on Tuesday night.

Chips, burgers—crickets in them both, baby. "Chirp, chirp." Photo by Rafael Pinheiro/ONErpmStudios

On Tuesday, I went to the premiere party of Buggin’ Out, a garish, brazen new web series dedicated to entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects. Each episode orbits around a New York-based chef and self-anointed "culinary thought leader" Don Peavy, better known by the onscreen moniker “ChefPV,”, cooking with insects for the first time in his culinary career. The party was held in the MEET event space in Manhattan’s Lower East Side; there were at least a hundred people in attendance that night.

In spite of its historical presence in a great number of lifestyles across the world, entomophagy remains in purgatory in the popular American imagination. I’ve gleaned as much anecdotally: Everyone I told about my excursion reacted with mild horror. Entomophagy's benefits—bodily and environmental—have been written about countless times, provoking some to even surmise that it's about to become a "trend" that spells the "future of food." This fascination has formed the backbone of many a sexy, SEO-friendly headline; recall the eruptive conversation surrounding cockroach milk. In spite of this, entomophagy is still widely regarded as a craven practice. It carries associations of reality television and its extremities—think Fear Factor. To eat bugs is to self-flagellate in diet form.

Photo by Rafael Pinheiro/ONErpmStudios

The offerings at the party included scorpions, waiting to be battered in tempura and fried accordingly; four people ate the scorpions whole, pre-fry, believing it wouldn't cause harm—only for ChefPV to waltz into the room and express gleeful remorse at the fact that the scorpions had been consumed before being cooked. (I do not know what became of these people.) I tried a black-bean burger with a cricket-infused patty. I wish I could say that the crickets were laced into each patty unobtrusively, but I’d be lying. I could tell when I was chewing a cricket, its taste resembling that of a thinning pistachio shell, and thus alarmingly familiar.

I've eaten a hornworm and I've swallowed it whole!

I chased this with two whole glasses of a “Hophattan” cocktail, a drink made with cricket bitters and Buffalo Trace bourbon. The drink was topped with a hornworm "garnish," its color mirroring that a stick of Spearmint decaying beneath a school desk. I met a wide-eyed young woman who swallowed the hornworm whole, citing her cosmic concern for once-sentient beings-turned-foodstuffs that made her cautious to bite an actual bug. I didn't care. I chewed the dead insect, the dainty thing's tiny secretions of juice spilling onto my tongue, its taste displeasingly savory.

All of the party's careful socializing was in anticipation of the premiere of Buggin' Out's first episode. Its aesthetic—jarring and unsubtle, pages ripped from some gonzo Discovery Channel playbook—registers as a self-conscious acknowledgment that a great number of Americans find this subject matter planetarily bizarre, and thus deserving of such garish treatment. Gaze at the elements—articulate lizards, slime-green overlays—and the show starts to feel as if its makers have taken great pain to remind us of the unfamiliarity of people who eat bugs.

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The episode itself seems out of lock-step with the party’s ethos—it was just like any other party in New York, teeming with people I feared were better dressed and more socially dexterous than me, infusing me with the same currents of anxiety any soiree would. I suspect that it’ll be a few years until Americans, at large, have finished participating in the mental gymnastics necessary to normalize eating insects. But the party offered a glimpse into what this world would look like wherein eating bugs is utterly quotidian. By evidence of this party, we’re getting there. Maybe we’ll be there soon.

Ever eat bugs? Let us know in the comments!

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    Mayukh Sen
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Rebecca October 31, 2016
I eat insects fairly regularly. For example, I like processing roasted mealworms and adding them to banana bread, but I'll also munch on a bowl of baked, spiced crickets the way some people might eat nuts. I think the future of sustainable protein will come from flours/meals make from insects. Cricket flour is already being added to bodybuilding shakes and snack bars. I'm not sure that we'll ever fully embrace eating insects when we can recognise them as insects, but ground up into a powder and added to more "acceptable" foods is the future, I think.
sarah October 31, 2016
that sounds very interesting. Where do you get your insects from? Do you buy it as snake food? Do you taste the mealworms in the bread? Sorry for all the questions, but I'm intrigued.
Moshee October 28, 2016
I feel like we should totally eat bugs just like anything else. We probably have all eaten more of them than we would care to know. Also, why would your friend think that eating a bug would make you feel disoriented & clammy when you go outside? I'd think the opposite. Eating roaches, for instance, might give us super powers like resistance to poisons, and help acclimate us to confined, dark, stinky spaces. Perfect in NYC! I've had ants and maybe a cricket, but anything with a really hard shell would seem like you said a pistachio shell or fingernail (yeesh).
Mayukh S. October 28, 2016
Ahh! A fingernail is a perfect analog to what that tasted like. Haha. Thank you!