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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bug Lunch

Air Date: Week of

Steve travels to New York with Living on Earth's Deborah Stavro to sample the latest culinary delight, insect cookery. People in many parts of the world have always eaten insects, and now some environmentalists say the nutritious arthropods are a potentially significant source of nutrition for millions more.


STAVRO: Sharon, it's Steve and Debra.

(Sound of opening door)

CURWOOD: At Living on Earth, we'd always heard that New York was the capital of gastronomy. So when caterer Sharon Elliott invited us down for lunch, Debra Stavro, our director, and I jumped in the car and drove down to sample some of her newest and tastiest creations.

(Stavro: Hi -- Curwood: Hi -- Elliott: How ya doin'? Stavro: We finally made it. Elliott: Come on in . . )

CURWOOD: Smells pretty good in here. What's cookin'?

ELLIOTT: Well, we're going to have a lovely assorted worm stir-fry, and corn and worm fritters with duck sauce, and a nice frittata with worms and crickets, and some trail mix, and if the butterworms get here we'll have orange butterworms.

CURWOOD: Yes, you heard right. Insect cookery has been a staple of many diets in most of the world, but it's still in its infancy as a food movement in the United States. In much of the world now, nutrition is a result of a lack of total calories, so the high protein content of insects is an invaluable resource of food. We decided to sample what the rest of the world has known for years: that bugs make good eating. Now, what's under this wok here?

ELLIOTT: I'm just going to heat this up while I'm doing this. We have our nice assorted worms over here marinating for the stir-fry later.

CURWOOD: Hmmm. The marinade is . . .?

ELLIOTT: Soy, rice-wine vinegar, sake, scallions, ginger, garlic. To give 'em a little extra flavor.

CURWOOD: Now these I recognize. There are some scallions here . . .

ELLIOTT: Some mushrooms, red pepper, and grated zucchini. Make a nice, wonderful little frittata . . . (sizzling sounds)

CURWOOD: Mmm. That smells awfully good. What did you just put in that?

ELLIOTT: There's nice garlic butter and then I sautee the worms in garlic butter and then we will do the vegetables and finish it off.

CURWOOD: And with us is entomologist Louis Sorkin, he's with the American Museum of Natural History. He's also the treasurer of the New York Entomological Society. So why do you eat bugs?

SORKIN: Insects actually are very good protein, carbohydrate, fat, certain mineral -- good source for almost all those essential requirements people need to grow.

CURWOOD: I've heard some advocates of eating insects say it's good for the environment as well as good for their tummies. What do you think?

SORKIN: Well, I agree with that statement. In the world now, where people worry about using too many pesticides, such as, let's say, the case where locusts in Africa travel, instead of spraying to kill them, some entomologists have advocated collecting them for food. And in fact a lot of the natives, of course, do.

CURWOOD: So instead of having to pay people to go out and kill them, you can encourage people to go out and catch them and eat them, and that's their pay.

SORKIN: Or eat them, or also dry them and prepare them for sale to other countries.

CURWOOD: Ah, the export market for locusts.

SORKIN: And that's been done already in Africa with a mopani worm, which is a caterpillar, and some of the insects in Mexico are prepared and served at restaurants.

CURWOOD: Okay, I guess we have to come over here. What are you up to now, Sharon?

ELLIOTT: We're frying our worm fritters. Right now we're doing the small mealworm and the corn fritters, and we'll separate them out. We'll do some waxworm ones, and some large mealworms.

SORKIN: Some people actually eat spiders too. Tarantulas, down in South America, I know of, but in some Pacific areas too. And they catch the spiders that have like a ten-inch leg span, and simply grab the rear end in a banana leaf and break it off and squeeze the insides out onto another leaf, and it's a paste, at that point -- but use the front end, which has the legs attached, and all the muscle is really there -- those you throw into a fire, that burns all the hairs off. Then they just crack open this tarantula cephalothorax and eat it like you would crabmeat, because it comes out very firm, white flesh. And you take the fangs off, which are about an inch or so in length, and you can use those as toothpicks.

CURWOOD: Now if I want to go back to Boston and experiment with cooking insects, is it all right if I go out into my yard and turn over a few rocks, or . . .?

SORKIN: Well, it depends on your yard. In certain areas, of course, let's say in the larger cities, you might have a lead paint problem, and sometimes if you've had things sprayed to control insect pests in your yard, you wouldn't want to get the insects there. But you can very easily go into forests and collect insects or have them delivered, because they're reared by many companies who supply insects to zoos and pet shops.

CURWOOD: How's it coming, Sharon, are we almost ready to eat?

ELLIOTT: We're almost ready. Once you sit down, we'll start on the, start with the stir-fry and the frittata.

STAVRO: What are you trying first?

CURWOOD: Well, she cooked the frittata first, and it looks just gorgeous, it's got this thin layer of cheese over the top of it, and you can see the shredded green vegetables in it, and it (sniff) smells heavenly, and out of the top is sticking a -- worm. Well, here goes, the wave of the future. (Sound of munching) Mmmm, it's kind of nutty, a little on the dusty side. Let me try the stir-fry now. Mmm, this is really delicious. Sauce is great with these. It's like going to a Chinese restaurant, there's the stir-fry -- I know it's rude for me to talk with my mouth full, but we're running out of time here -- So I thank you. My guests, entomologist Louis Sorkin, of the American Museum of Natural History, and our chef, Sharon Elliott, of Orlando and Elliott Caterers. Thank you both for this delicious meal. Let me try some of these fritters here now . . . (crunch) Mmmm. Living on Earth is directed by Debra Stavro -- Debra, you want to try some of these fritters here?

SORKIN: The waxworm fritters or mealworm fritters?

STAVRO: Oh, all right. Here goes. (Crunch) Hmmm. They're delicious.

CURWOOD: Well, I guess we should bring back some of this, some of these mealworms and waxworms and everything to our coordinating producer George Homsy, and producer and editor Peter Thomson, they should like these. Along with our production team of Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Colleen Singer Cox and Chris Page and Reyna Lounsbury, and of course our engineer Laurie Azaria, she'd like some of these. We'll save some for Michael Aharon, who composed our theme.

SORKIN: What do you like best?

CURWOOD: I think these waxworms, Lou, believe it or not.

SORKIN: That's one of my favorites too.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. If you have any questions about eating insects, or Living on Earth, you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Or call our listener line at 617-868-7454. Transcripts and tapes -- and recipes -- are available for ten dollars. I forgot to ask you guys -- what kind of wine do you recommend with insects?

SORKIN: Sharon and I decided a Chablis would go nicely with this meal.

(Funding credits up and under)



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