Into the Mouths of Babes
By Barbara Carr
Mind you, this is not my usual day job. The occasion was the Randall Museum's annual Bug Day. I had landed this enviable position though my acquaintance with Scott Bowers, founder of the Bay Area Bug Eating Society (BABES).
Museum staff had offered to supply insects and cooking utensils if we provided the other fixin's, plus time and enthusiasm. Margaret Goodale, one of the museum's science educators, welcomed us warmly, mentioning that their previous "edible-bug guy" had a prior commitment. Through events like Bug Day and hands-on art and science exhibits, the Randall Museum encourages children and adults to explore the cultures and environment of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Goodale led us to a table set with bundles of fresh crickets and mealworms, an electric skillet and various tools for stirring, scooping and serving. We arranged our tortillas, guacamole, soy sauce, sriracha chili sauce and "Iron Chef Sesame Ginger" sauce, and then got to work.
By the time oil sizzled in the frying pan, eager bug eaters licked their lips in anticipation. OK, there was one: he had been at Bug Day two years before and couldn't wait to dig into some crunchy critters. He barely waited for his bug-a-dilla to cool before popping it into his mouth.
Soon throngs of curious museum-goers surrounded our buffet table. They were, however, more curious than hungry. Those of a certain age displayed the wrinkled-nose skepticism (the "ick" face) that only pre-adults can master.
Besides our first customer, most visitors asked why we were cooking bugs, where they had come from (did we catch them all?), and whether they were safe to eat. Bowers explained that, in many places around the world, it is perfectly normal to eat bugs; our aversion is more a product of our Western cultural preferences than true health or safety concerns. The museum staff likely bought these particular ingredients from a pet store. He assured them that these bugs were clean and edible and tasted a little like potato chips. In fact, he believes some people in Asia or Africa would rather eat readily-identifiable crickets than the factory-farmed, plastic-encased meats sold in the average American supermarket.
Often the first brave soul to take a bite was a parent--but it was the kids who kept coming back for more. After checking out other exhibits, they'd stop by for a snack, then another. The tiny ones, especially, couldn’t get enough. Waifs looking more accustomed to granola and soy milk devoured mealworm after cricket. We took pains to emphasize that these bugs tasted good because they were cooked; the ones on the ground are not nearly as yummy. Thankfully, the novelty of eating insects and the wide array of cover-ups--err, condiments--detracted attention from our rudimentary cooking skills; the "Iron Chefs" have nothing to fear.
To our surprise, museum staff offered us sandwiches, chips and cookies around mid-day; maybe they saw our insect tortillas as appetizers? Cultural taboos die hard. One smiling father cautioned his son, "Hey, buddy, let's not mention to your mom what you had for lunch today…"
For more about the Randall Museum or Bug Day, go to www.randallmuseum.org
For more images from this event, visit the PlanetScott Slideshow
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