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Bold Enough to Eat Bugs

‘Survivor’ Contestants Are Among Few Americans Bold Enough to Eat Bugs

Portions reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Thursday, March 15, 2001

By Kathleen Ganster

      If you have been bitten by the “Survivor” bug, you saw hometown favorite Amber Brkich of Brighton Township in Beaver chomp down on a bug a few weeks ago in the TV show’s immunity challenge.

How safe is it to eat a bug? Pretty safe, according to Robert Davidson, collection manager for the insect collection at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Oakland.

“Many cultures eat bugs all of the time. Some are harmful but a lot of bugs are full of fat and protein,” said Davidson, who has a master’s degree in zoology.

Interviewed by e-mail, the author of “The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, 1998), David George Gordon, said: “When it comes to bug-eating, we’re the oddballs for not eating bugs. Just about every culture except those of Europe, and by extensions, the U.S. and Canada, eat some form of insect or spider.”

Gordon eats bugs himself. “I don’t start each day with a bowl of crispy crickets, but I do eat bugs a lot. Mostly at bug banquets in my home and at the public programs I give at museums and science centers throughout the U.S.”

If the urge to eat a bug strikes, be particular about the bugs you pick up. “If you don’t know what you are doing, you could choose a bug full of toxin,” Davidson warned. “There are certain spiders or adult wasps that could be very dangerous. But you could sterilize and fry up some Japanese beetle larvae.”

Of course, you also don’t know what the bug has eaten. Said Kathy Burkholder, entomologist, educator and owner of Kathy’s Critters and realcooltoys.com: “Many insects eat poisonous plants without any harm to themselves, but they may be of some harm to a predator.”

Perhaps more dangerous than the toxins from the bugs are the chemicals and pesticides that may be on the plants the bugs have been living on or near. “You should probably be hesitant in picking up an insect off the street and eating it because of the possibilities of insecticides or other pollutants in or on the animals. In a modern city, these possibilities would be more hazardous to his health,” Burkholder said in a telephone interview.

Another danger is allergies. “If you are allergic to shrimp, it might not be good idea to eat insects,” said Burkholder.

What about taste? “You should know your bugs. You may not want to take a chance on eating a nasty tasting ladybug or monarch butterfly,” Burkholder said. “And like many foods, cooking usually adds a better texture and taste.”

Besides crunch, bugs can also add nutrition to your diet. “Obviously, different insects will have different nutritional values. Compared to beef or fish, many insects have comparable but slightly lesser amounts of protein, more carbohydrates, much less fat and more iron — not to mention plenty of other minerals and vitamins, such as copper, zinc, thiamin and riboflavin,” said Burkholder.

Kathleen Ganster is a Hampton free-lance writer who kitchen tested these recipes. She does not eat bugs.

For more information about eating bugs and recipes, check out Gordon’s “Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” or www.olympus.net/dggordon.

For the complete text of this article, go to: http://www.post-gazette.com/food/20010315bugs5.asp