Eating insects may sound like something straight out of a horror movie, but for entomophagist Daniella Martin, it’s fun, tasty, and ecologically friendly. In Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope To Save the Planet (see review, p. 93), Martin discusses her adventures preparing bugs all over the world and explains why consuming insects may be the key to a more sustainable future.
I had been studying pre-Columbian cuisine in Mexico, and insects played a significant role in the early Aztec and Mayan diets. As a wannabe anthropologist, I knew I had to try [them] for myself.
Did you have any phobias you needed to conquer before you began?
Don’t get me wrong, eating your first bug can be a challenge. But my parents were both scientists. Curiosity and logic were placed far above squeamishness in our household. We raised lots of animals, and my mom was my middle school science teacher. She would do stuff like bring home a pig lung so she could test out her lesson plans. We took turns trying to inflate it through a straw on our kitchen table. If my brother or I ever complained some task was too dirty or gross, the response was, “So what? You’re washable.”
You went all over the world, visiting different cultures and seeing how they prepared bugs. What surprised you the most in your travels?
I should have just been floored right and left, researching what I was [researching], right? But a lot of the stuff I saw, I ultimately expected to see. So…the thing that really surprised me was how inoffensive the cricket farms were in Thailand. Granted, they were open air, but they didn’t smell like anything but chicken feed, and they weren’t very noisy. They were the cleanest, most civilized livestock farms I’d ever seen.
You’ve prepared some potentially dangerous creatures (including a giant scorpion for your web show, Girl Meets Bug). Has anything frightening or unexpected ever happened?
Right before the first time I fried a scorpion, I learned that some scorpion species have been known to reanimate after being frozen and then thawed. Literally, right before shooting that video, I learned this. As if I weren’t nervous enough. I immediately called David George Gordon, author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, in a panic. He calmed me down. Other than that, I suppose I’ve tasted some, er, untasty bugs. In the beginning, when I was less experienced, a time or two, bugs would reanimate after I hadn’t frozen them for long enough. I wasn’t scared by this, but I did feel bad about it.
Have you managed to make any converts out of friends or family?
My now husband not only eats bugs, he helps me come up with and test recipes. We served toasted crickets at our wedding. Everyone tried them; my husband’s 90-year-old grandmother had a whole plateful.
You say that from a sustainability perspective, eating insects is far more responsible [than eating other types of meat]. In terms of consumption, what would your ideal world look like?
There would be a bug farm in every city. All fast-food restaurants would offer a bug burger. All supermarkets would sell bug-based products: protein powders and energy bars and fortified baked goods. Many people would raise heritage breeds in their own homes and argue about the correct organic diet to feed their stock for best nutritional outcomes and whether it was still “eating local” if you ate a species not endemic to your region. Organic farmers would harvest not only produce but pests and sell them to gourmet, farm-to-table restaurants.
What are some of your favorite meals involving insects?
I really like bugs in stir-fries…. I think they go [nicely] with a little onion, a little garlic, and some veggies. I have a six-ingredient cricket stir-fry with red cabbage and crickets that is excellent; moth larvae go…with mushrooms and eggs, so I have a hakuna frittata that works really well.