Ento ... what? Exploring a couple authors fascination with eating insects

Ento ... what? Exploring a couple authors fascination with eating insects

Entomophagy is the technical term for eating insects. And it's definitely been a food trend in recent years ... but what about eating insects in sci-fi? 

Both of us are from a culture where intentional insect eating is not common — it’s most commonly seen as a challenge on a game show or on shows like Survivorman. But more of the world eats bugs than doesn’t it's not some alien food source. And we both have an interest in insects as food.

Have you intentionally bugs? If so, what?

Jeannette: Crickets. A co-worker brought in a plate of chocolate chip cookies made with cricket powder (along with chocolate and sugar and that kind of good stuff). They smelled good, so figured why not try them.

Christine: Did they taste like chocolate chip cookies?

Jeannette: Yes, they did not taste like bugs, just the expected cookie flavours. Have you?

Christine: Yes, I’ve eaten silkworm larvae when I lived in Korea.

Jeannette: How were the silkworms prepared? Any garlic butter?

Christine: Ha, no. Everything tastes good if you add garlic butter, but these were just steamed … I think. For me, in my memory at least, the steaming silkworm larvae smelled like wet dog, and I couldn’t get past that. So I didn’t like it very much.

Jeannette: Just steamed? 

Christine: I think so. There may have been a seasoning I couldn’t place or it’s lost in the fog of memory. But millions of Koreans love beondegi — it was a street food snack when I lived there.

Jeannette: Years ago I was in a market in Beijing and they were selling scorpions on a stick —they were coated in some sort of spicy sauce that smelled fantastic. I didn’t get any, but a travelling companion did. As she bit into them, juice sprayed all down my front. The scorpion juice never came out.

Christine: Do you regret not trying scorpion?

Jeannette: Nope. My friend ended up with an upset stomach.

What about eating bugs in media - fact or fiction?

Jeannette: When did you first encounter bug eating in fiction?

Christine: I can’t recall. It was probably a scifi book.

Jeannette: The first one that comes to mind (because it was a world I want to live in) was in Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Christine: Did that have bug eating? I didn’t remember that bit, though it’s also a world I want to live in.

Jeannette: I think they were raising bugs on their ship to eat. Or at least the fleet was raising red coast bugs — the Aeluons saw a pest and the humans saw food. 

Christine: It makes sense on a spaceship. It’s one of the most efficient sources of protein. They can often be fed on waste, produce usable waste and use less water and space. But don’t raise termites — apparently they’re “farty” according to the episode of Ologies on entomophagy.

Jeannette: We keep lizards as pets, and one of the things we do is raise mealworms. Now I’d never actually eat them, however they are well behaved (they don’t stink or escape). I see how one could scale up raising them, and they take up little space.

Christine: That’s cool, I didn’t realize you raised them. For me, one of the big reasons for eating insects is the environment. However, that episode of the Ologies podcast, mentioned that the environment — and the efficiency of insects - wasn’t a main motivator for people who eat insects.

Jeannette: I’ve heard that witchetty grubs taste fantastic — I’m just from the culture that frowns on eating bugs so it creeps me out a bit.

Christine: Same. And our shared culture might eat raw food but generally not living food — though witchetty grubs are eaten both alive and cooked. Apparently, fried termites taste like popcorn.

Jeannette: Years ago, I took a wilderness survival course where they went over eating grasshoppers (a big nope for me) and ants. What they said was that ants taste like salt and vinegar chips. But, even after being in the woods for a week and only eating what I could forage, I never got hungry enough to try the ants.

Christine: Why were grasshoppers a big no?

Jeannette: There was ‘prep’ required for the grasshoppers. Not that different from preparing a shrimp, but doing it wasn’t for me.

Christine: That makes sense. Apparently with farmed crickets and the like, they don’t feed them near the end. In a way, it’s like how they prepare clams or snails to “clean out the insides”.

Insect eating in our writing?

Christine: We both have bug eating in our scifi — what made you decide to include that?

Jeannette: I love to read about the various experiments we’ve done on Earth about extended stays in enclosed systems (like the Russian BIOS experiments and slightly crazy original Biosphere II experiments) — when space is an issue, bugs become a good protein source. (Note: the two experiments above did not include bug eating). Besides, eating bugs is an eco-friendly thing that I haven’t really brought myself to embrace. But, I see it becoming more of a thing in the future, and my characters wouldn’t see it as a big deal. How about you?

Christine: Similar. When you have space constraints, eating insects make sense. At least that’s how it started for me. From there, I went on to build a bug-eating culture — partly because I enjoyed coming up with all the different insects they could eat and different ways to use them. They’re also used to create seasonings and drugs.

Jeannette: So a whole culinary system.

Christine: Sort of. It’s certainly a key part of the food system. They do eat other things, but bugs so far are the main protein. Even for the ship’s cat.

Jeannette: They would be a ‘fresh’ food if one raises them on their spaceship. As someone who has had to eat hard rations for extended periods of time — and that’s the alternative I’d picture for space voyages — fresh food makes a world of difference.

Christine: Now I’m envisioning an entomophagy farm next to the aquaponics bay. 

Jeannette: Don’t forget the mycelium lab! (But that might be another article…)

Christine: Oh, yes!

Jeannette: We did internet searches for movies with bug eating in them — what we got was something else entirely well down the horror rabbit hole.

Christine: And if there was “bug eating” it was the bugs doing the eating.

What about you? Have you intentionally eaten insects? If so, what? If not, would you?
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