When David George Gordon talks about eating insects, he doesn't mean a few chocolate-covered ants or some roasted grasshoppers. He's way beyond that.
On Aug. 8 and 9 at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the author of the Eat-a-Bug Cookbook will whip up scorpion scaloppine, deep-fried tarantula, and other dishes that even the most adventuresome eaters might find challenging. He'll nevertheless be offering tastes.
Gordon, who lives in Seattle and gives buggy cooking demonstrations nationwide, will be in town for the academy's annual Bug Fest, which for the weaker of heart - or palate - also will have bugs that visitors can merely touch or just observe in all their wiggliness.
Gordon's cooking demo begins at 1 p.m. each day, and visitors can meet him from 11 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. (More information: www.ansp.org/bugfest)
Entomophagy, as eating insects is called, is not merely quirky or cute. Some see insects as a way to meet the planet's protein needs given predictions of worldwide food shortages stemming from population growth and climate change. Evidently, there's some real, er, meat here, as Gordon said in a recent interview.
Q. Worldwide, do people eat a lot of insects?
A. A report produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization said that 1.9 billion people worldwide eat bugs. The statistic that was particularly interesting was that 80 percent of the world's cultures eat bugs. We're in that weird 20 percent that thinks it's an odd thing to eat an insect. To the rest of the world, we're talking about a food group.
Q. How do bugs rate, nutritionally?
A. Insects and their kin - bugs, because spiders and scorpions aren't technically insects - are extremely rich in protein. They are low in fat, and they have omega-3 fatty acids. You also get all sorts of vitamins and minerals. Crickets are rich in calcium. Termites are rich in iron. People who depend on a corn-based diet might not be getting the amino acid lysine. The ancient Aztecs sold ears of corn that were infested with corn earworms at a higher price than just plain old corn. There's a lot of ancestral wisdom that we've lost.
Q. What about environmental impacts?
A. The way we raise cattle, it takes about 16 pounds of grain to makes one pound of meat. A couple thousand gallons of water go into that same cow. It's costly. By comparison, some insects, like mealworms, don't need water at all. They get their water by breaking down carbohydrates. They've evolved to live in arid conditions. Crickets require about two pounds of food to produce one pound of meat.
The FAO report said that over the next 40 to 50 years, another billion people are going to be on the planet. They're saying we couldn't possibly serve everyone hamburger. By raising grasshoppers instead of cattle, we could curb greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 60 percent.
Q. What do you think it would take for Western cultures to embrace insect-eating?
A. A large part of it is just changing our attitudes. In the last five or six years, there's been a real movement toward accepting bugs as food, particularly among young people. Start-up companies are making cricket powder by roasting crickets and grinding them. It's a great additive for smoothies and baked goods.
I have mixed feelings about that. Powders are a great way to get people to eat bugs without going through a lot of inner turmoil. But it's not really educating people. It's like putting vegetables in the meat loaf because your kids won't eat vegetables.
It's funny to me that people eat escargots as a delicacy, but they won't eat slugs. All slugs are is snails without shells.
Q. How often do you eat insects yourself?
A. I don't depend on them exclusively because there are just too many choices. But I usually have a bowl of crickets or dried grasshoppers out for snacking. And I do cooking demos once or twice a month, so I'm usually taste-testing and trying new recipes. I guess I eat bugs once or twice a week.