"I'll let my first experience eating bugs
be when I'm out in the wilderness starving," my friend
Well, that may be okay for her, but, for me, it was a lot more fun
to take my first nibble of cricket in the company of an interesting
man, at a comfy table, drinking wine and laughing. So who's
crazy here? Me probably.
I had fair warning that dinner at David Gordon's was going
to be an adventure in dining. When the author of The Compleat
Cockroach and The Field Guide to the Slug told me he
was working on a cookbook, the Best Recipes from the Eat-a-Bug
Cafe, I had no doubt some creepy crawly critters were going
to be on the menu.
The evening's main course was to be orzo and othoptera. That's
pasta with crickets, if you must know, and David crowned me his
As I washed my hands, a childhood memory flashed: "Wash your
hands before dinner," my mother warned. "Who knows what
bugs you may have touched." How ironic. Years later, here I
was washing my hands before eating a dinner of these same vermin
my mom cursed.
Hands clean, I scanned the recipe. It started out sounding yummy:
Vegetable broth, orzo, garlic, onion, carrots, pepper and
20 freshly killed cricket nymphs. So how long do you cook a cricket?
"Oh, maybe 30 seconds," my host replied. "And yes,
you can overcook a cricket. They'll burst if you get them too
hot." Eeww, cricket guts on the glasses. Not a pretty picture.
"There's a good reason you cook anything insects,
too," David added. They have parasites. Whether they're
fresh or frozen doesn't seem to matter for most recipes.
"For me the trick is obtaining these guys," David said.
He had 500 crickets on order. The crickets popping in the wok were
purchased locally from the same place I bought them for my
So, do you drink white or red wine with lizard food? The Wine Seller's
Joe Euro recommended a white Oregon Pinot Gris or a red Shiraz.
"The preparation of the bug, versus the actual bug itself,
will actually dictate what type of wine you'd want," Joe
said."Marinara would probably indicate a nice chianti, whereas
a Thai peanut sauce would probably warrant a sauvignon/fumé blanc.
The Frog's Leap brand might be appropriate since frogs eat
bugs, too." Good ol' Joe, what a trooper!
Early in the game, I really didn't care what the wine was
just give me some! My courage was waning. Folks back in Louisiana
had hand-collected the big apple green katydids for the evening's
cream of katydid soup. David had already removed the legs and wings
before he blenderized the noisy bugs. My gracious host didn't
want me picking bug parts out of my teeth.
"We have no problem eating the marine equivalent of insects,"
David said, as we sat down to dinner. "Lobsters live in a hole
on the bottom of the ocean and eat dead creatures. Think about how
disgusting oysters are and you're eating their guts.
It must have been a real adventure for the first guy to ever crack
open an oyster shell and eat an oyster."
Crayfish, oysters and soft-shelled crabs are readily accepted here
in the United States. Entomophagy that's bug eating
is a different matter.
"It's a totally cultural thing. We're raised to think
some things are acceptable and some things aren't," David
said. "Insect lovers refer to honey as bee barf. Or, if you
go to the health food store and buy bee pollen, that's just
pollen mixed with bee spit." Perfect dinner time conversation.
Two glasses of wine later, my courage had returned, and I was actually
enjoying the creamy soup even if the garnish was a big green
katydid doing the backstroke through the murky green remains of
"Okay, I'm feeling brave. I'm ready to try the crickets,"
I told my host.
"I think you're being more adventurous eating the soup.
There's a lot more bug in the soup than in the orzo. It's
just not so obvious," David said.
My stomach turned. Boy, was I tempted to scoop a forkful of the
pasta without a cricket. David would never know. His dog wouldn't
care. No, that wouldn't be fair. So, making sure I did indeed
get a cricket on the fork, I shut my eyes and put in in my mouth.
Chewing, chewing waiting for cricket recognition and
the urge to throw up. But neither came. My tongue didn't even
discern the cricket from the veggies and pasta.
"The crickets I've just fried tasted subtly of shrimp,"
David offered, pouring more wine. As we talked, I noticed I was
chewing on the soup. I didn't want to concentrate too long
on what it was. Finally, I had to see. It was green and small. A
bug part, no doubt.
"Oh yeah, it's a katydid thigh," David enlightened.
The vegetarian has gotten some flack on his bug eating efforts.
"Is it a cop out for a vegetarian to eat bugs? The reason I
became a vegetarian was to eat lower on the food chain."
In other parts of the world, vegetarians may eat small animals and
fish, so who knows what's proper? Besides, this isn't
really a change in his lifestyle. He's just writing a book.
"Gross em out David" started his college career
pursuing a degree in journalism, and ended with a degree in aquatic
"Now I'm a science writer. I like to reach people by writing
humorously and by hitting them from different angles than they expect,"
David said. His cookbook is a perfect example. He knows it's
going to be a joke present for everybody's favorite uncle.
"But, I hope that when they get this for Uncle Harry, he may
actually open it and try a recipe," he added.
David's The Field Guide to the . . . book series proved
to be a marketing lesson for him. People loved eagles and the field
guide was informative. The Free Willy Foundation bought 75,000 copies
of The Field Guide to the Orcas. Even better. "But The
Field Guide to the Sasquatch was when I first realized you could
get a little weird," David admitted. And he did. Just ask his
"I'm not getting much family support on this cookbook.
Actually, my daughter thinks I've gone off the deep end,"
David's field guides to the slug and geoduck were regional
hits, but it's been The Compleat Cockroach that's
attracted the press.
"When I was working on the cockroach book, I just started delving
into the world of insects," David explained. People have been
writing eloquently about bugs since 1580.
While working on the roach book, David whipped off a paragraph
to his editor saying he wanted to do a bug cookbook of nouvelle
cuisine recipes for this age-old cuisine. Normally publishers want
to see a detailed query and sample chapters, and David's as
amazed as others that his Best Recipes from the Eat-a-Bug Cafe
idea was snatched up by Ten Speed Press, in Berkeley, Calif.
"The basic premise is every culture except European cultures
eat insects," David explained. "We're the oddballs.
We go, Oh, gross!'"
Did you realize 95 percent of the life on our planet is invertebrate?
All around the world people eat bugs. There are dried caterpillars
from Africa. Or how about giant water beetles from Thailand, ground
and added to a chili paste or steamed for a snack. Hungry yet?
In Japan, you can buy cans of bee larva. Then there're always
pan-fried scorpions, which had even less appeal to me after watching
a live hairy Sonorian Desert scorpion dance around as a centerpiece
for my evening's meal.
One does have to be careful where bugs are collected. The problem
with collecting bugs in the field is you need to know where they've
been and what pesticides your neighbors have been using.
Insects have a high protein content. A small grasshopper or giant
water beetle has nearly as much protein per gram as lean ground
beef. Many bugs have a lot more iron than beef; and they're
loaded with calcium. But do avoid caterpillars and grubs if you're
watching your diet they're high in fat. Large grasshoppers,
June beetles and ants are all low fat.
"Protein is hard to come by in a lot of places," David
said, especially where there're large populations and not much
land or water.
"That's because those people are starving. They have nothing
to eat," declared my non-bug consuming friend. "We have
Ah yes, indeed. But does the chocoholic realize the Food and Drug
Administration actually acknowledges the parts-per-gram of bug parts
allowable in food products?
"Most anything that's a bean or a pod almost always has
insects in them," David said. That includes chocolate, my friends.
Actually, my only regret from my dinner with David was that he hasn't
gotten to the dessert section of his book yet. Heck, anything smothered
in chocolate's bound to taste great.
Another tidbit of trivia from deep in the Gordon memory banks: the
paper band around the top of the catsup bottles was originally put
there so people wouldn't be able to see the bugs which'd
end up floating to the top of the catsup. Catsup, anyone?
"People have probably eaten a lot of insects and not even known
it," David said.
Growing up as a kid in Pennsylvania, my mother's
tomato patch would flourish. I hated to have to pick tomatoes, though,
because I knew THEY would be there. Hidden beneath the tomato plant's
leaves would be these horrible two-foot-long, and as thick as my
arm, green worms with a big red ball-topped horn.
Well, so okay, maybe they were three inches long and as thick as
my mom's finger, but they gave me nightmares.
Fortunately, after hearing that tale, David took the hint and didn't
serve the disgusting creatures he had safely frozen in his freezer.
"Think about it, though. What do they eat? They're kind
of odious to look at, but they taste like green tomatoes,"
Sorry, I still wasn't convinced enough to taste test his Fried
Green Tomato Hornworms. Nestled in the freezer beside the hornworms
were some three-inch lubber grasshoppers.
"As a kid, I ate those chocolate covered grasshoppers. They
were just kinda crunchy," David recalled. "More recently,
I went to an insect fair and there was a woman serving Chexs party
mix with crickets."
Garlic was the dominating flavor of the "Chirpy Chexs Party
Mix". While that not be as appealing to some as, say, Cajun-flavored
meal worm snacks, both prove a lot of spices, or chocolate, can
"At first I was pleasantly surprised the bugs tasted good,"
David admitted. "I was advised by someone to stick to green
and brown insects."
Remember science class? If it's red, it's saying, "Don't
eat me. I taste bad." That means there'll be no recipe
for ladybugs and lima beans in David's book. Ah but, there's
Cockroach Consommé and Gregor Samsa's Samosas. And Alpha-Bait
Soup's snipped-up worms oughta be a hit, too.
"A lot of these recipes start out as bad puns and work their
way up to recipes," David admitted. How about Three Bee Salad,
in which two of the three bees are larval bees, before they get
their stingers. Wait a minute, they're like. . .maggots? "Yeah,
they kinda are, but don't tell anyone," David asked. Of
course not. Who would I tell?
"The most nutritious ones are the baby insects, the ones who
are going to be something when they grow up," David explained.
That's grubs, maggots, meal worms, and others in their larval
"The problems with tarantulas is they have these hairs on their
bodies that you have to remove," David said, while we examined
his daughter's pet's body.
While "Doris" sort of agreed to be a prop for a photo,
we made sure we didn't let on that David had a couple of her
relatives in the freezer. Doris may be loved, but those other giant
tarantulas are destined to be steamed like crabs.
"The take on my cookbook is that it's different and fun.
Besides, it's fun grossing people out," David admitted.
Oh yes, indeedy. I'll ditto that. I have to say, the leftovers
were the best part of the meal. Safely tucked away in a plastic
container, they spent the next day with me. Talk about reactions!
"I hope you didn't get that in my place," a local
restaurant owner said, when he spotted the crickets and katydid
in the pasta.
"Yuck! I'm not going to kiss you for a week!" yelled
Heidi, my 11-year-old, loud enough, I might add, to be heard all
the way down the block.
"Get that off of my desk!," a mortified Leader
reporter said, when I casually slipped the open container onto her
"I'm glad I wasn't here to see them," an escargot-loving
pal later said.
"But wait a minute," I countered. "You love escargot.
You're eating a slug's cousin."
"That's different. They're raised to be eaten. And
in garlic and butter they're just wonderful," she defended.
What party poopers! But, what fun! After years of having preteen
boys trying to gross me out, it was my turn and I had a great