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The DePaulia investigates: Edible insects

By Nick Enquist
On May 22, 2012

New diets always come with the promise of a healthier lifestyle, a better physique and even less of a strain on the wallet. Most of those diets are looked at with skepticism, but a new diet, entomophagy, might actually achieve those goals. You just have to be willing to eat crickets every day.

"Yeah, I could never eat a bug," said DePaul student Alex Davis. "I'll stick with the FDA approved foods, thank you very much." Davis would rather follow his own basic nutritional plan.

Like most, Davis just can't get over the "yuck factor" of eating a bug. Even when people see a bug near their food, they often freak out and refuse to eat at that same restaurant again. Or they just douse the whole area in pesticide.

However, insect eating is accepted and practiced in more than 80 percent of the world. The United States is one of the very few countries that don't believe in it. But despite this, there is a new trend growing on the West Coast that promotes the eating of insects.

Small restaurants are popping up that sell insects as food, some in very lavish recipes. Many of them are in the Bay Area, and one cook, Mónica Martínez, is leading the way with her "Don Bugito" food cart.

"A lot of people have run away," Martínez said. "Some other people, I think they have been waiting for it. And they - they don't even ask questions. They are just ready to eat."
Not only is bug eating becoming a diet trend, but many scientists are excitedly condoning the health benefits of the practice as well.

Florence Dunkel, associate professor of entomology at Montana State University, discussed many benefits of eating insects. "You get more for your efforts because you can eat almost 90 percent of the insect, if not 100 percent."

By eating a handful of crickets one would be able to get more protein than a hamburger. About 100 grams of cricket contains 12.9 grams of protein. That doesn't sound like much, but the cricket only has 121 calories and just over five grams of fat.

The rest of the cricket has a healthy amount of calcium, iron and carbohydrates. To compare, 100 grams of beef has 288.2 calories and more than 20 grams of fat. Technically the beef has more protein, but your body will absorb more protein and less fat if you eat the crickets.

"Well, I mean, I've heard of there being extra protein in insects," Davis said. "But I'm worried about diseases that might be found in a bug that humans can't handle."

Davis makes a good point. Many illnesses come from animals, but, believe it or not, humans actually have more to fear from farm animals than creepy crawlies.

"We do have concerns about disease jumping from animals, like pigs and cows, to humans," said Brain Fisher, an etymologist at the California Academy of Sciences. "But there are no worries about a disease jumping from an insect to humans. The more evolutionarily distant we are from our food source, the less danger there is. Insects share very little DNA with humans, so it's much safer in terms of diseases than eating cows or a pig, for example."

Many scientists are huge supporters of insect eating and want to see it in a mainstream market. Fisher is demanding McDonalds make a "McCricket." Some, like Fisher and Dunkel, are saying that entomophagy is a solution to world hunger.

The main argument is that it takes fewer resources to produce more insects than it does to produce cows and pigs. "[Insect] reproduction is very rapid ... one month, and you have an adult insect, starting with an egg. With a cow, well, you have nine months gestation, and then you have a couple of years before you harvest the cow."

Maybe bugs will be the solution to the world's problems. And perhaps one day we will see the McCricket at McDonalds next to the McScorpion and McCatepillar. The only problem that stands in the way is the "yuck factor" that people need to get over.

"I'm not saying it's an easy thing. The psychology of it is definitely - it has a lot to do with culture," said Martínez. "So, some of them, they look scary. To me, crickets, they look scary. But, for other people, crickets are friendlier than worms and larva. It's like, come on, you look at a cow or a pig, they could look scary too."

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