Devoted readers of this column will recall discussions over the years about the eating of bugs. But no bugs have actually been eaten here. It’s all been abstractions and recipes, and nothing about the surely unique sensation of biting down through thoraxes or picking antennae from between the teeth.
So I set out to set things straight. To go beyond mere secondhand, third-person reportage and get to the experience. I haven’t quite succeeded. But in the process, I’ve gained … a new identity. Or at least a new hobby.
First, I clicked online to the University of Kentucky’s Entomology for Kids site. Elsewhere on the Web, I found travel writer Tim Cahill’s description of the “delicate aroma” of sago beetles as served in Irian Jaya in Indonesia. I devoured the classic 1975 text Butterflies in My Stomach, Or: Insects in Human Nutrition.
And I found there’s nothing quite like broaching this subject over a Thanksgiving holiday meal.
“You’re going to what? Why?” wailed my mother.
“Hello, we’re eating dinner,” proclaimed my wife.
“Daaaad!” went my children.
“Kiiiiiiim!” moaned my youngest brother.
“I guess you won’t be bringing the casserole to next Thanksgiving’s potluck,” proclaimed my middle brother.
So I tried to put forward the arguments I’d absorbed in research.
“Think of the other things we eat. What about snails and oysters? Did you know lobster traps are baited with rotting meat? Did you ever stop to think about what honey is? You’re eating bee vomit, nothing but bee vomit.”
Finally the furor subsided. And my mother smiled the smile that says she loves all three of her sons, and sighed the sigh that says one loon out of three isn’t such a bad record, when you put it all in perspective.
Of course, after all this, there was no question about proceeding. True connoisseurs, I assume, head to the pet shop and start off by asking, “How are the mealworms today?”
But being a novice, I simply announced, “I’d like to buy some mealworms.”
“Sure,” said the clerk.
“They’re for cooking, I need about a cup,” I said.
With an indifference that suggested I might have asked for stewing puppies to equal effect, she said, “They come in 100 count and 50 count,”
This was a problem. Nothing I’d read had quite prepared me for the all-important conversion factor of mealworms per cup. I tried to think this through as she disappeared into the back room and emerged with a small plastic container with a ring of needle-size holes on top.
“We’re all out of 50 counts. Here’s a 100 count — $3.50.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “I guess I’d better take two.”
Back home, I pried back the lids. My containers were nearly half-empty, the bulk being largely worm meal. The mealworms themselves were pale, plump, writhing wires up to three-quarters of an inch long, with little brown-bulb heads, and six spiky legs clustered up front. They churned around — rather like an infestation of maggots, observed my wife.
But I couldn’t imagine that I’d netted more than 1/16 of a cup or so. That’s an experiment. This was to be a meal.
Which is how I became Farmer Kim, breeder of mealworms, with a couple of colonies munching away in the garage and shedding their skins (which I understand they will conveniently eat).
Come harvest time a mealworm generation from now, my 200 mealworms will be — well, cups and cups, a feast and another column’s worth. I hope(?).
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