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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.
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.
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 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.
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!