Call them creepy crawlers. Summon his ire.
“Creepy to whom?” he questions. “Not me.”
One of David George Gordon’s favorite snacks is chapulines, toasted grasshoppers with garlic, salt and lime. They’re commonly consumed in Oaxaca – and Gordon’s Seattle home.
“I usually have a bowl of those out for guests when they come by,” said the hobby chef and science writer who’s completed 20 books on everything from oysters and geoducks to “The Secret World of Slugs and Snails.”
For the past 17 years, he’s also traveled the country giving cooking demonstrations and convincing people to eat cockroaches and crickets.
Wednesday and Thursday, Gordon is coming to Spokane to talk about eating insects and arachnids. Or, if you want to be fancy: entomophagy.
While there won’t be any cooking demos this time, Gordon will discuss the use of mealworms, bees and other bugs as sustainable sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. The presentations, sponsored by Humanities Washington, are free and open to the public.
Gordon’s bringing snacks. He’s calling them “bug treats.” He won’t specify the kind. He wants it to be a surprise.
Perhaps a grasshopper “Sheesh! Kabob” or ants on a log?
He got actress Anna Faris to eat both last year on “The Late Late Show” with James Corden.
“They’re all right,” she said of the grasshoppers before opting out of the cockroach canapes with goat cheese and endive. “You go first, Tituss,” she said to the other guest, actor Tituss Burgess.
Ants on a log, that children’s snack of peanut butter-filled celery stalks, is usually dotted with raisins. The Bug Chef’s recipe features actual ants.
“They’re kind of like cracked pepper,” Gordon said. “They have a really exotic flavor. It’s almost impossible to describe.”
‘Our own food prejudices’
Gordon’s “Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” was first published in 1998, and revised and re-released in 2013.
“When I wrote the bug book, I was definitely the one weirdo in the room,” he said. “Now, I’m going to conferences where people all over the world are gathering to talk about (entomophagy). In the last five or six years, it’s become kind of trendy to eat bugs” – at least, in America.
In other lands and throughout history, humans have consumed six- and eight-legged critters.
“Statistics say that 80 percent of world cultures eat bugs. That 80 percent pencils out to about 1.9 billion people. So,” Gordon said, “we’re the weirdos.”
He’s citing the 2013 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 201-page “Edible Insects” report reminding people there are more than 1,900 edible insect species, many of which are staples in the cuisines of other countries.
Beetles and caterpillars top the list, followed by bees, wasps and ants, then grasshoppers, locusts and crickets.
“Termites are so popular in South America and Southwest Asia and Africa that people actually stake out termite mounds,” Gordon said. “There have been big fights and people have actually been killed over who owns that termite mound.”
Gordon doesn’t eat bugs every day. And bugs aren’t his only source of protein.
“To just get your protein from insects, it can be done. But I don’t think it’s very satisfying,” Gordon said. “People are omnivores. I think there are way too many good food choices to just focus on insects for my diet.”
While cookies, energy bars and chips made with crushed crickets – they’re called Chirps – have hit the market in recent years, eating what bugs you is still an anomaly in the U.S.
Why don’t many Americans eat bugs?
Perhaps it has to do with their crunchy exoskeleton, alien appearance and the fact that most, especially farmers, view them as – and call them – pests.
They bite. They sting. They ruin crops.
We’re taught from a young age to fear and squish them.
“We have a mistrust or dislike of bugs,” Gordon agreed. “The idea of eating them is sort of like sleeping with the enemy.”
He attributes bugs’ bad rap to agriculture and “fear-mongering” by pest control companies.
“We’re in a continuous war with insects,” Gordon said. But, for environmental and sustainability reasons, “we need to look at non-conventional forms of protein. Bugs are very easy to farm.”
Holding us back are “our own food prejudices,” he said.
Snug as a bug in a … salad?
Gordon’s talk is titled “Adventures in Entomophagy: Waiter, There’s NO Fly in My Soup!” He’s hoping to see “a good cross section” of people from the Spokane area – and spark conversation.
“The whole idea of Humanities Washington is to engender discussion on a community level, so that’s why I think they like my talk,” Gordon said. “I talk a lot about why not eat insects. I’m really interested in what people have to say. If nothing else, it will start dialogue.”
That hasn’t proved to be difficult with his topic.
“People have really strong feelings about food,” Gordon said. “You could get in an argument with people over how to make chili. It’s almost like talking religion or politics.”
Still, he enjoys “tweaking” people’s perspectives on what food can be.
“I hope people will come back with a broader perspective on whether insects are good food – or not – for them and also just examine their eating habits,” he said.
For beginning bug eaters, Gordon suggests starting with a gateway ingredient such as cricket flour.
It’s easier for most people to – ahem – digest “because it’s not (a) whole (insect),” Gordon said. “They don’t see it looking back at them. I think if there is going to be a broader acceptance, it might come in that.”
Or, coat the critters.
“I want people to be aware of what they’re eating,” Gordon said. “The bugs in my recipes have prominence. But the idea of using tempura batter and deep frying them – or anything that kind of conceals the I’m-eating-a-bug aspect, such as dipping them in chocolate, so they are a little disguised – can be a good place to start.”
Still another good starting point: deep-fried mealworms. “When they come out they look like a Cheeto,” Gordon said.
For more advanced insect and arachnid eaters, or if you’re feeling adventurous, he said, “I have a recipe for Scorpion Scaloppine.”
And his Three Bee Salad features bees at three life stages: adult, pupae and larvae.
“Bees have a really wonderful taste, particularly the really young ones,” Gordon said. “They have a flavor that’s between honey and beeswax, and they’re very rich in vitamins.”
Another favorite: deep-fried tarantula.
“Their body armor is not as crunchy. It’s more chewy or pliable, so it makes for a more satisfying meal, I think. They kind of taste like crab, soft-shell crab, which is funny because you can go to a sushi restaurant and get a spider roll, which is basically soft-shell crab.”
The grasshoppers in Republic, Washington, are particularly good, said Gordon, guest of honor at the town’s first Grasshopper Festival last year. He plans to attend this year’s fest, too. “I’m happy to see it become part of their identity.”
But, Gordon cautions, don’t just eat any bug you find under the sink or on the sidewalk.
“The biggest peril with insects is that they might have eaten pesticides,” Gordon said. “If they have, you’re basically eating pesticides yourself, and that can build up over time. I would suggest people harvest bugs in an area that is not urbanized or heavily used by people.”
Gordon said he’s found, in general, that New Yorkers aren’t super adventurous when it comes to eating bugs. Perhaps, he said, that’s because they associate them with the ones they most commonly see: flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches.
“People in California are seeing butterflies and praying mantises, and they’re a lot more accepting,” said Gordon, who puts Pacific Northwesterners right up there with their California cousins, “which speaks well for us.”
There are lots of people in both places “in the category of I’ll try anything once, people who are into foraging, like mushroom hunters. There’s a certain amount of that in our culture that’s mainstream, like going out and digging razor clams on the coast. The idea of going out and getting it yourself is exciting.”
Even if it isn’t exciting to you, Gordon’s enthusiasm is contagious.
“I like to educate people and get them more excited about the little guys and not just the lions and tigers and bears. It’s a little bit of an uphill battle because of people’s bad attitude toward insects. They kind of hold the planet together in terms of food for other animals. They’re pollinators. They serve a lot of very important functions. So for us to have bad attitudes about them is kind of a joke.”
Three Bee Salad
1/2 cup (about 40) frozen adult bees
1/2 cup (about 60) frozen bee pupae
1/2 cup (about 60) frozen bee larvae
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 ounce bee pollen granules
Lettuce for serving
Nasturtium petals or other edible flowers for serving
Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the adult honeybees and return to boil for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bees from the water. Pat dry with paper towels and allow to cool.
To the same water, add the honeybee pupae. Repeat the procedure for cooking the adult bees, also allowing the pupae to cool.
Repeat the same process with the honeybee larvae.
In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked adult bees, followed by the pupae, then the larvae.
Immediately before serving, add the bee pollen granules, stirring the mixture to ensure that the granules are evenly distributed.
Serve on a bed of lettuce, decorated with the nasturtium petals.
Yield: 4 servings
For the marinade
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, thyme and tarragon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
For the skewers
12 frozen katydids, grasshoppers, or other large-bodied Orthoptera, thawed
1 red bell pepper, cut into 11/2-inch chunks
1 small yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
Mix all ingredients for the marinade in a nonreactive baking dish. Add the katydids, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
When ready to cook, remove the katydids from the marinade and pat dry. Assemble the kabobs by alternately skewering the insects, bell pepper and onion wedges to create a visually interesting lineup.
Brush the grill lightly with olive oil. Cook the kabobs 2 or 3 inches above the fire, turning them every 2 or 3 minutes and basting them with additional olive oil as required. The exact cooking time will vary, depending on your grill and the type of insects used. However, the kabobs should cook for no longer than 8 or 9 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings
2 cups canola or vegetable oil
2 frozen adult Texas brown, Chilean rose, or similar-sized tarantulas, thawed
1 cup tempura batter (see recipe below)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
In a deep saucepan or deep-fat fryer, heat the oil to 350 degrees.
With a sharp knife, sever and discard the abdomens from the two tarantulas. Singe off any of the spider’s body hairs with a crème brûlée torch or butane cigarette lighter.
Dip each spider into the tempura batter to thoroughly coat. Use a slotted spoon or your hands to make sure each spider is spread-eagled (so to speak) and not clumped together before dropping it into the hot oil.
Deep-fry the spiders, one at a time, until the batter is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Remove each spider from the oil and place it on paper towels to drain.
Use a sharp knife to cut each spider in two lengthwise. Sprinkle with the paprika and serve. Encourage your guests to try the legs first and, if still hungry, to nibble on the meat-filled mesothorax, avoiding the spider’s paired fangs, which are tucked away in the head region.
Yield: 4 servings
1 medium egg
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
To make the batter, beat the egg in a small mixing bowl until smooth. Slowly add the cold water, continuing to beat until evenly mixed. Add the flour and baking soda and beat gently until combined; the batter should be a bit lumpy.
Let the batter sit at room temperature while heating the oil.
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