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In the intervening years, she has pursued entomophagy as a hobby of increasing seriousness. She currently broadcasts a bug-cooking show on YouTube, and is putting together a proposal for a television series that would explore entomophagy in cultures around the world, with an emphasis on cooking techniques.
"What is really needed right now is a cooking show," Martin says, sporting a pink apron and setting up an unusual mise en place of wax moth larvae, bee larvae, scorpions, crickets, stink bugs, and grasshoppers next to the stove. "I don't want to alienate my male colleagues, but [people] need to see a woman cooking bugs and smiling and not being squeamish."
Martin prepares her favorite dish first: a canapé of fried wax moth larvae, diced oyster mushrooms and crème fraîche that she calls "Alice in Wonderland" because of the caterpillar and mushroom elements. Her method of preparing larvae is idiosyncratic: A cardinal rule of bug cuisine is that almost everything, even worms, should be cooked until crisp. "Most people will tell me, 'If I'm going to have an insect, it better crunch rather than gush,'" says Dave Gracer, an entomophagy advocate and food-insect supplier based in Providence, R.I.
By contrast, Martin cooks her wax worms slow and low in butter. The larvae and mushrooms blend to a virtually indistinguishable texture, color. and taste, soft and golden, their woody and earthy notes offset by the cream's silky tang. The bee larvae, fried and combined with lettuce and tomato in an entomophagist's BLT, are similar. "They taste like little, nutty, mushroomy raisins," Martin muses. This doesn't seem like eating bugs at all.
The crickets, grasshoppers, and scorpions are different. The animals' exoskeleton lends an unavoidable crunch to the dishes in which they are incorporated, reminding eaters, bite by bite, of what's in their mouths. But the texture is less jarring than the atypical flavor of the bugs' carapaces, which is not immediately appealing to the unaccustomed palate.
The exoskeletons have an iodine aftertaste redolent of the naturalist's laboratory. Yet when combined with other familiar flavors — Martin serves up a grasshopper on a slice of apple drizzled with honey — the taste of any bug recedes into the background. Like shrimp, crabs, and lobsters, insects impart a flavor that is mild and easily combined with other ingredients.
The comparison with ocean- and river-dwelling arthropods is one that often comes up in conversation with entomophagists. The animals share similar physical traits and belong to the same phylum. Some insects will even trigger shellfish allergies. "You have to scratch your head, from a logical perspective," says Zack Lemann, chief entomologist at the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans. "Why do we eat shrimp and crawfish but not their brethren on land?"
Lemann's facility, which opened in 2008, includes an interactive exhibit in the form of a cafe called "Bug Appetit." Visitors to the museum can sample a wide array of freshly prepared bug dishes. The idea, Lemann says, is to make insects more appealing to the layperson by presenting them as a potential food source. So how has Bug Appetit gone over with paying museum patrons?
"The short answer is that there is every reaction within the spectrum you might imagine," Lemann says. While some people refuse outright to eat bugs and others dine on them readily, he says the "vast majority" of people are of the "I didn't expect this, but I'm game" camp.
Wooing this bloc of entomophagy agnostics on a wide scale is a foremost goal of bug-eating advocates. To do so, activists talk less about insects' culinary merits and more about the broad effects entomophagy could have on human agricultural and environmental practices. In an age of growing consumer obsession with ethical and sustainable food sources, they argue that bugs are about the most ecologically sound food there is.
The environmental benefits of turning to bugs as food are most apparent, entomophagists maintain, when the nutritional benefits and environmental costs of insect gathering and farming are considered side by side with those of large-animal husbandry.
Cows are an inefficient means of converting grasses or grains into protein, consuming at least 10 pounds of silage for every two pounds of meat they produce. Insects, by contrast, are among nature's most efficient feed converters. The same 10 pounds of plant matter will support roughly seven or eight pounds of crickets, according to Frank Franklin, a retired pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist who teaches at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama. Insects don't emit ozone-depleting methane gas, and consume a low volume of water, compared to large mammals.
Bug farms also seem to obviate some of the ethical and environmental problems that plague industrial agriculture. There's nothing wrong with keeping many insects together in close quarters. Despite Western associations between insects and filth, many food bugs have exceedingly pure vegetarian diets — wax moth larvae, for instance, can subsist on nothing but bran and honey. Contrasted with the diets of say, farm hogs or ocean-dwelling crustaceans, that starts to look pretty good. "I like to point out that lobsters and crabs eat trash and feces and dead animals, and grasshoppers eat salad," Gracer says.