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What's Bugging You?

An alternate source of nutrition


Did you see the termites crawling on the front page of this paper and chomping around the edges of the cover story? These nasty little buggers cause billions of dollars of damage eating homes and other buildings. Why not turn the tables and eat them?

We might think bug-eating (entomophagy) is disgusting, but it's common in many parts of the world. In fact, three quarters of the earth's population eats insects willingly. I could find no statistics on how many eat them unwillingly.

Gross or not, insects are high in nutritive value -- rich in protein, carbohydrates and fat. Termites provide 36 percent protein, but Atkins dieters shouldn't overdo it -- 100 grams (3.5 oz.) of fried termites are a whopping 561 calories.

Next to grasshoppers (the bug, not the drink), termites are the second most eaten insect in the world. Tropical varieties tend to be larger than those found in the US, and Southeastern termites are smaller than the ones out West.

Some believe insects are the food of the future, and that they'll be available in supermarkets here within a decade or so (Japanese supermarkets already stock them). If you can't wait that long, you can break off pieces of termite nests and soak the pieces in water to force out the little varmints. Removal of wings is recommended before the termites are roasted, boiled or fried.

But there's so much variety in the insect world, why limit yourself to termites? Besides the aforementioned grasshoppers, you can eat locusts, ants (they must be cooked for 10 minutes to destroy the poison), beetles, silverfish, moths, caterpillars (the smooth ones are the best, or at least that's what they say), scorpions, and rolli-pollies, which are actually crustaceans, related to lobsters. Oh, and don't forget fly larvae, also known as maggots.

Cockroaches are also edible, but they take some special preparation to rid them of the parasitic worms they carry. I wish I'd known that when, years ago, I bit one in half, thinking it was a big juicy berry in a cup of yogurt. I spit it out and sent it with a letter of complaint to Dannon, whose response was that it was a natural garden pest. I also got a coupon for 25 cents off my next cup of yogurt and a Dannon kitchen magnet.

So be bold. Be daring. Be a bug-eater. If you want to.

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