Bugs Up!

“In 2020, locusts have swarmed in large numbers in dozens of countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia. When swarms affect several countries at once in very large numbers, it is known as a plague.”

                                                ~ David Njagi

This summer, the seventeen-year eruption of cicadas will occur across the United States, starting in the east and moving west. The newly hatched insects are harmless and do little damage to vegetation, but their buzzing sound can be highly annoying.

These kinds of insect plagues are not rare and occur across the world, sometimes with precision based on the incubation rates of the insects. Nonetheless, these events are cause for both wonder and concern. Two notable swarming insects are cicadas and locusts. Locusts a type of grasshopper, require massive amounts of vegetation to grow and thrive, and can devastate crops and other vegetation. Cicadas are related to crickets. All are part of the order Orthoptera.

In the shared Jewish and Christian story of Exodus, a plague of locusts was instrumental in God convincing the Pharoah to release the Israelites from slavery. “If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including everything that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians — something neither you nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.” ~Exodus 10: 4-6

The origin story of the Mormon Church in Utah describes the miracle of the gulls, where in 1848, a massive plague of crickets devastating the crops of the newly-established community, but was eradicated by swarms of sea gulls. While a great story, Wikipedia adds some shade to the tale, by noting, “The damage to the crops in 1848 was due to frost, crickets, and drought, and the gulls only had a minor impact on one of those factors… Gulls regularly returned to feast on the crickets for years afterwards (and presumably for years before), making 1848 unremarkable.”

Over time, various methods have been employed across the planet to try to battle insect swarms. Burning crops and spraying chemicals to halt their advance has been tried (chemical sprays are ineffective against cicadas); physically smashing the insects has been tried; and most often, people have resorted to prayer.

However, reporter Jill Rosen quotes food expert Jessica Fanzo says, “One person’s infestation is another’s free eco-friendly lunch.” It seems that many insects can be tasty as well as irritating. Fanzo goes on, “In addition, insects are already an established source of protein around the world, including in Mexico, where people eat crickets; in Thailand, where people enjoy water bugs; and in Africa, where people regularly eat locusts and crickets.”

When our son was in elementary school, his science teacher pitched the idea of eating insects. The response of the class was to be expected, mostly along gender lines. In any event, all the kids and some of the parents alternated between being grossed out and intrigued. Ultimately, the insect-based cookies were not that big a gastronomic hit, but it was certainly something to brag about.

Rosen notes that Fanzo, “plans to collect and eat cicadas herself as soon as they hit her own backyard. She also says, “the insects have as much protein as red or other factory-farmed meat, but without the harsh environmental effects, such as rising greenhouse gases and biodiversity loss.”

“Fanzo … has sampled most of the insect dishes of other cultures and believes the shrimp-tasting cicadas of the United States should certainly rank among them, although the North American palate might not be ready… They’re a great natural source of protein and other nutrients, there’s going to be a lot of it in a very short period of time so, it’s a great opportunity to give them a try… Once you get over the look of them, they’re quite tasty.”

Reporter Cordelia Hebblethwaite notes, “Locust is the only insect which is considered kosher. Specific extracts in the Torah state that four types of desert locust — the red, the yellow, the spotted grey, and the white — can be eaten.”

“As with fish, there are no rules surrounding their ritual slaughter, making them a particularly versatile ingredient for culinary connoisseurs, like chef Moshe Basson, founder and owner of the famous Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem, and a specialist in reviving ancient Biblical foods.”

“For the uninitiated, he recommends serving them crunchy — an effect that is best achieved as follows: Drop them into a boiling broth, clean them off, and roll in a mixture of flour, coriander seeds, garlic and chili powder. Then deep-fry them.”

“Pan-frying is another good option, and they are “crunchy, tasty and sweet”, says Basson, when mixed with caramel and sprinkled into meringue.”

Blogger Beth Dabley is enthusiastic about cicadas, “Did you know you can eat these nutritious, red-eyed bugs that are high in protein and low in fat? Deep fry them and serve with a hot mustard dipping sauce. Marinate them in teriyaki sauce. Bake them into a cake or pie. Put them in a dumpling. You name it … know this: They’re called the ‘shrimp of the land’.”

I imagine the American public’s reaction to this idea will be predictable for a culture that is afraid to eat any exotic meat, and is worried that the progressives are going to take away their hamburgers as well as their guns.  

Additional information:

Beth Dalbey, The Billions Of 17-Year Cicadas Emerging This Spring Are Edible, March 22, 2021, Patch

Cordelia Hebblethwaite, Eating Locusts: The Crunchy, Kosher Snack Taking Israel By Swarm, March 21, 2013, BBC Future

David Njagi, The Biblical Locust Plagues Of 2020, August 6 2020, FUTURE PLANET

Jill Rosen, Bug Appétit: Why Eating Cicadas Is Good for The Environment, May 14, 2021, HUB, John Hopkins University

CTD Scott, Shrimp of the Land: A Quick Guide to Eating Cicadas, May 30, 2013, blog.cheaperthandirt.com

Wikipedia, Miracle of The Gulls, January 6, 2021

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