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Reporter Derrick Shore goes to a Mexican restaurant and tries their cricket tacos and visits the Rainbow Mealworms farm in Compton where billions of worms and other insects are raised and shipped out to feed mainly reptiles, but more recently humans. "SoCal Connected" also talks to a U.C. Riverside entomologist who says the ecological advantages of eating insects are many, and cultural barriers will have to be overcome to feed a global population that will climb to 9 billion by 2050.
Derrick Shore: Let’s be honest: Insects freak a lot of people out. We don’t want them in our homes, or crawling on us. We certainly wouldn’t want them in our food. But, a report by the United Nations is actually recommending that humans eat them. Like, these guys. By 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. And according to the UN Food and Agricultural organization, it’s cause for concern. They say if we’re going to feed everyone, it’s time for us to start eating our cold-blooded friends. Of course, they’d need to raised on a very large scale to make that happen.
Today, I’m at Rainbow Mealworms in Compton. Now this place has all kinds of bugs inside. While I can’t see them yet, I can definitely already smell them. So let’s go inside and look around.
Gillian Spence: These are all worm bins. And so like I said, each one of these racks will hold a million mealworms.
Derrick Shore: Gillian, the general manager, typically sells her critters as feed for reptiles. From crickets, to hissing cockroaches, to giant mealworms, this place has over a billion bugs on any given day.
Gillian Spence: If you look in the very bottom you can feel how warm it is down there. That’s their castings - or their poop.
Derrick Shore: Oh great, now you tell me. Are you seeing any human consumption at all?
Gillian Spence: We’re seeing a lot of human consumption. There’s been a lot of interest. Daily, I get emails, I get calls. People want to know how we raise them. Are they safe? What are our thoughts? What do they taste like?
Derrick Shore: Some scientists say bugs could be the solution to many global problems. At the Entomology Research Museum at UC Riverside, Dr. Doug Yanega showed me some of the 3 million bugs in his collection. It’s like a giant morgue of insects.
Doug Yanega: These are giant water bugs. You can eat these, and lots of people do. They should have a bit of an apple flavor. Other insects in this family give off odors that are similar to that. Although, reportedly they taste a little bit fishy too because that’s what they feed on.
Derrick Shore: Some of the bugs Dr. Yanega has eaten sound pretty nasty to me. But, he likes them.
Doug Yanega: Scorpions can be really delicious. Queen ants, are really tasty.
Derrick Shore: Some people think the idea of eating insects is crazy. Is it crazy?
Doug Yanega: I don’t think it’s as much crazy as a matter of cultural attitudes.
Derrick Shore: In fact, about 2 billion people around the world already eat insects as part of their regular diet.
Doug Yanega: It’s a highly digestible protein. It’s nutritional. You get more bang for your buck in terms of protein production.
Derrick Shore: Traditional sources of protein, like cattle and pork, require large amounts of land. A substantial amount of feed for the animals, and produce greenhouse gas emissions like methane which are literally the result of all that livestock passing gas. But insects don’t come along with those problems, say bug believers. Across town, I decided it was time to face my own fears. This is the kitchen of Monte Alban restaurant in West LA. Ofelia is the owner and we’ve come here today to try some grasshoppers. So this is what we’ll be eating.
Ofelia Martinez: We use it as a snack and part of the meal too. We can put it in a dish, we can do it in a quesadilla too. But it’s more common just to tortilla and the grasshopper, and you don’t need anymore.
Derrick Shore: I mean that’s a lot of grasshoppers in one taco.
Ofelia Martinez: But that’s what is going to make it tasty and really, really good and some of the lemon and there you go. There is your taco.
Derrick Shore: Okay, here goes nothing. Sorry little grasshoppers. If my mouth wasn’t full, I would have said they were crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. And they mostly tasted like the garlic and lime used to sauteing them. That’s really good. Nice work. This is delicious. Oh my goodness. It’s actually really really good. When they are wrapped up in a taco, it’s easy to take a bite because you don’t actually see the bug. But these are grasshoppers, there’s no doubt about it.
Ofelia Martinez: This is better to eat it holding the legs because they are pretty big to hold the legs.
Derrick Shore: Wait, what? Just eating them by themselves? Then something, I wasn’t expecting. Ofelia wanted me to eat a whole grasshopper.
Ofelia Martinez: Mmm.
Derrick Shore: Tastes like garlic. On the inside, I was freaking out a little bit. But it actually was quite tasty. And in fact, I ate the entire plate full of them. I think I have a grasshopper leg in my throat. I’m really not kidding.
Ofelia Martinez: Okay, let me bring you one tequila...or?
Derrick Shore: Yeah…the grasshoppers weren't so bad. But all the protein in the world doesn’t matter if most people won’t eat it. If someone is unable to get over the idea of consuming an insect, what are some of the ways they may be able to incorporate insects into their diets, without actually shoving a grasshopper in their mouth.
Doug Yanega: Well you have to treat insects more as an ingredient in a food, than as a food itself. If you grind insects into flour and them make a coffee or a muffin or a cake, then you’re still incorporating insects into the diet and not making it obvious that what they are eating is insect-based.
Derrick Shore: As the Western world struggles with the idea of gulping down bugs, several start-ups are promising a delicious future of edible insects. One of those companies is Exo, which uses cricket flour in its protein bars. Exo says crickets are high in Omega 3 and amino acids and have other micronutrients without all the fat. So I just wouldn’t feel right about not sharing some of these grasshoppers with my office, so let’s take the grasshoppers and cricket flour protein bars and do a little taste-testing. Just another day at KCET, roaming the halls, plate full of grasshoppers.
Nikol Hasler: They’re really good.
Michael Bloecher: It tastes like chocolate. Is it cricket flour? It’s good.
Derrick Shore: Good. Made with cricket flour.
Alicia Clark: I don’t hate it.
Henry Cram: Whoa, I’ve never had ‘em cooked before. Just kidding.
Derrick Shore: Some people, couldn’t get enough. Save some for the birds, geez.
Juan Devis: These are great. They are fantastic. I love them. I would totally buy these.
Derrick Shore: For others, the idea was too much to stomach. We’ve got a runner people.
Kathy Kasaba: Oh god. The bugs, ew.
Bobby: I don’t think I can handle it fellas. I’m serious. I can’t do it.
Derrick Shore: Why do you think the bug hurdle is such a big one to get over?I
Gillian Spence: I think it’s just how we’re socialized. When we’re little, we’re taught insects are harmful. Don’t’ touch them. Spray them with a chemical, get rid of them. It’s ingrained in us from when we’re little.
Derrick Shore: Insects won’t solve all the world’s problems, but maybe a few.
Doug Yanega: It’s a major food resource that is really not being utilized properly at this point. If we can get past the cultural barriers, then we have the potential to make some real advances in feeding the planet.
Derrick Shore: So whether the idea of eating little critters like this freaks you out or not, proponents of bug eating say it could be the future because compared with traditional sources of protein, it’s better for the environment, and it might be better for your health. I’m Derrick Shore for “SoCal Connected,” and it’s time for dinner.