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United Nations wants you to eat more bugs

We dared Allen to eat another one. He and we, the boys egging him on, were in the second grade. We thought it was the coolest thing we’d ever seen. The handful of girls looking on thought it was the grossest. And with a dirty grin on his face, he reached down and picked through the grass to find another. When he leaned back up, he held the grasshopper up for all to see and then popped it into his mouth. You could hear the crunch. The girls scattered. The exact response we had hoped for. The rest of us reached down into the grass to find a bug of our own and took off after the girls with it.

And who knew that Allen on that elementary school playground more than 30 years ago was doing what man has for ages and what the United Nations now says we should all do more: eat bugs.

I thought about this boy-eating-bug scene as I listened to a radio talk show recently. I was driving home to Georgia on a trip back from Mississippi. The learned man on the radio called it entomophagy, which is the $10 word for the practice of eating bugs for nourishment. And according to the U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization, it could be the key to future food security, or that’s what they say in the report “Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security” released earlier this year.

Insect eating is nothing new for many parts of the world. Tribes in Africa and Australia eat beetles, ants and larvae as part of their subsistence diets. Folks in Thailand like crispy-fried locusts and beetles. The bug-eating expert said at least 2 billion people worldwide regularly eat bugs, and that many more ought to think about it.

Numerous edible species

About 2,000 insect species have been documented, he said, as edible, most of them in tropical countries. The most commonly eaten insect are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, cicadas, leaf and planthoppers, scale insects, termites, dragonflies and flies. How about that?

Now, I don’t know about eating bugs as a regular part of my diet. But I do know from many years of scouting beans and cotton as a young man, before Bt technology, that any one acre of Southern crops could house enough insects to feed a family of four for at least a day or more – a bug-eaters buffet if you like. Might be a new novel way to save on pesticides. But I joke. To get by in life, some folks have to eat bugs. Some folks do it because they like it. … And some do it simply to ‘impress’ the ladies.

And here is a big coincident: When I got back from that Mississippi trip, I found that my 11-year-old nephew, returning from a school trip to Savannah, Ga., had in his possession fried grasshoppers he bought there. And, yes, my six-year-old son thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen and eagerly ate some of it. Some things never change.

On the heels of that, I then taught my boy something I probably shouldn’t. We went outside, rumbled through the grass and found some crickets. Told him, “If you really want to see something cool, when mama comes home, come grab one of these and go inside and say ‘Mama, watch this,’ and pop it in your mouth and crunch down.’”

Told him to tell her the United Nations said it was OK. … But not to mention my name.

Associate editor’s note: I’ll be from time to time writing columns for print and blogs for Farm Press websites. This is my first one for Farm Press. I’ve been playing the farm journalism game for more than 15 years. And as they say, if you find something you love to do for work, well, you never work a day in your life. So, that means I ain’t worked in 15 years. Honored now, too, to be doing it for Southeast Farm Press, working with managing editor Glen Rutz, editor Paul Hollis and fellow associate editor Roy Roberson. The transition’s been easy. But I haven’t asked them yet how they like their bugs. I’m guessing battered, deep-fried and heavily seasoned.