By Ryan Kresge
Matt is in the kitchen chopping carrots. I start to walk past him to get to the living room, but the Tupperware container on the counter stops me. Something is moving in it. “What is that?”
“Cockroaches,” he says and continues cutting. “I’m going to eat them.”
I’m dumbstruck. What if they got out and colonized our house? Are they sanitary? These things are huge. Where in the world did he get all these cockroaches?
“They taste like fries,” he adds. He opens the container and plucks one of the four out between his thumb and forefinger. Its antennae wriggle. He tries to drop it into my hand, but the tiny spines on the carapace and legs stick to his skin. I have to grab it by its waxy abdomen and pull it out of Matt’s palm.
Its feet prickle. Upside down, right-side up. The legs grab hard onto my hand. They feel cold. The top of its body curves lazily around the edge of my palm, but the layered plates of red waxy exoskeleton move with engineered precision. The two antennae whip about carelessly. Up close, the cockroach is strangely beautiful.
I give the beast back to him and leave. I want nothing to do with this. After a while I can smell his dinner cooking, and I just have to go back into the kitchen – I tell myself it’s the vegetables and oil. But something smells like roasted walnuts. I take a bite. Typical stir fry: carrots, red cabbage, onion, green beans, soy sauce, rice, sesame oil, cockroach. The cockroach is crunchy on the outside, creamy in the middle. The flavor is mild. In truth, it all tastes mostly like soy sauce.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, our cultures, environment, history, community, mobility, and socioeconomic systems define what we think is edible and what is not. Whether we eat insects or arachnids is a matter of birth. And bugs are abundant. Many are nutritious and high in protein. How did we come to be terrified of insects instead of seeing them as a luxurious form of hamburger?
Bugs. The smell of citronella plagues my memories from summer. My family dislikes mosquitoes so much that their front porch has four (give or take two more) candles burning all summer long. Eat bugs? Not a chance! Green metal buckets, flames, burning chemicals, and lemony stink. “Eat your food.” But it all smells like bug candle!
Yet we are surrounded by edible bugs. Whether that mass of fruit flies emerging from ripe bananas, the infestation of carpenter ants in the kitchen floor, the storm of buzzing mosquitos – insects are more likely to be poisoned than eaten.
The global south has even greater abundance of insects, and many show up for lunch. Once, while hiking in the Costa Rican jungle, we stopped for lunch at a river crossing – bags dropped, rubber boots kicked off. I lay down in the river, suspended in cool water. After a minute, I left to relieve myself. I zipped my pants and sat down by the river to eat lunch.
Finished with my gallo pinto, I stood and stretched and nearly fell over. Hundreds of butterflies fluttered on the ground drinking my pee. Neon orange, holographic emerald, velvet black.
We didn’t eat these butterflies, but yes, some are edible. Mexico hosts a variety of edible Lepidoptera that have been eaten for centuries. In Mexico, people grow the species Leptophobia aripa elodia and Pieris brassicae in bags outside their homes and harvest the larvae. The sheer number of Lepidoptera contribute to cultural dietary consistency.
Bugs somehow seem much easier to eat when they can be quickly harvested, grown in bags (or sinks) at home, or fried with soy sauce late in the evening.
Ryan grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where he learned to hunt and fish and respect those who continue these very human traditions. In spring 2015, he studied in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, focusing on the potential for mediating the impacts of climate change through community-based, grassroots solutions. More recently, he has been researching cognitive dissonance and its impacts on data consumption in the USA. Ryan will graduate from Ithaca College in 2018 with a B.A. in environmental studies and hopes to pursue a career in Law.