While I was filling the bird feeders in our yard, I opened a bag of dried mealworms and poured out hundreds of them on a serving tray — as brown, crispy and crunchy as a bowl of Rice Krispies with legs and antennae.
I knew the dinner guests would arrive soon because mealworms are a favorite of blue jays, which descend on the feeder like teenagers storming the cafeteria vending machine to snatch the last bag of Lay’s potato chips.
Actually, birds prefer live mealworms to the dried variety because of the wiggling action, but I’ll end up in divorce court the day my wife opens the refrigerator to find a Tupperware container of creepy, crawly mealworms hidden beneath the avocado hummus, so the dried variety will have to do for now.
Don’t think I’m crazy when I say this, but the smell is pleasant in a strange sort of way, almost like roasted pumpkin seeds. The sight of them, however, turns me off because their bodies remind me of the diagrams of intestines that you see in the gastroenterologist’s office.
Bugs have that unsettling effect on us, although with a little behavior modification, I’m sure we could learn to love them. We’ve all heard stories about hikers who had to survive in the wilderness on slugs and worms when they ran out of food. I guess if you close your eyes and don’t mind the texture, you’re halfway home.
I still remember a classmate in grammar school, who tried to shock the girls by eating a worm. It was the talk of the schoolyard and arguably the defining moment in that fellow’s life.
He probably put it on his resume when he went after a management job: “Innovative leader, who’s not afraid to take risks, e.g. ate earthworm in third grade.” He might even include it on his Tinder profile, although I can’t imagine anyone would want to lock lips with someone who’s been eating worms.
But a new era is dawning … After a revision in food safety laws, the second largest Swiss supermarket chain has begun stocking the shelves with bug burgers made by a company named Essento. Switzerland is the first country in Europe to approve insect-based food for human consumption, and the fare will include grasshoppers, crickets and, my favorite, mealworms, which are the larvae of the mealworm beetle.
Essento is partnering with the supermarket chain Coop to offer burgers and meatballs made with mealworms. However, I’m worried that once this becomes a culinary fad, the price of mealworms will skyrocket, and my birds will have to find their own bugs instead of freeloading at my feeders.
This could become a global issue for the Trump administration because research by the United Nations shows that 2 billion people worldwide eat insects, which is a healthy practice when you consider bugs are 22% fat and 20% protein and contain minerals such as phosphorus and potassium — all of which means to say they’re better for you than Big Macs or Popeye’s spicy Cajun wings.
The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition says insects are an excellent source of protein and can be an optional food source in case of a shortage, so don’t go applying pesticides in your yard, just in case you have to forage for dinner someday. Scientists say there are enough insects on the planet for everyone, humans and birds included. Furthermore, raising insects is better for the environment than raising cattle and pigs.
It’s time to push this cause in the U.S.A. The first thing we’ll need is an effective PR campaign to change the way Americans think. Either Taylor Swift or Kanye West or maybe Derek Jeter could convince their millions of followers that eating bugs is hip and good for the environment. Never underestimate the power of a celebrity endorsement or an expensive public relations campaign.
The Swiss fell for it. The spokesperson for the supermarket chain told Fox News, “We have always been at the forefront when it comes to finding new trends and offering innovative products. Insects present culinary variety and an interesting composition of nutrients, such as proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, mineral and fiber.”
She almost has me convinced. Why should the blue jays have all the fun?