Entry 234: Six-Legged Lunch

One of my favorite stand-up comedy lines of all time was from the late, great Sam Kinison. kinisonHe would tell the audience that he had the solution for world hunger. “Stop sending them food,” he would say. “Instead, send in some U-Hauls and boxes and a guy to tell them to (screaming) ‘LIVE WHERE THE FOOD IS! YOU’RE IN A DESERT! THERE’S NO FOOD HERE. MOVE TO WHERE THERE’S FOOD!’”

These kinds of common sense solutions are missing from the world today. For instance, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO without the Schwartz) believes it has the solution to world hunger: insects.

According to its 200-page report, grasshoppers, ants and other members of the insect world are an underutilized food for people, livestock and pets.

Speaking on behalf of pets, let me just say that if I tried to feed bugs to our dog Toby, he’d roll his eyes and look at me as if to say, “Yeah, right.” And he enjoys goose poop.

anthony-bourdain-no-reservations[1]The U.N. report continues with all the clichès you always hear whenever The Food Network or The Travel Channel airs a food adventure show (“Anthony Bourdain’s Stuff Even I Wouldn’t Eat”). “Oh, yes, insects are high in protein,” the host always says, “and they are delicacies in some parts of the world.” And then you switch the channel to Survivor and they’re competing to see who can keep down a bunch of dung beetles long enough to win immunity.

Still, at first glance, fried flies and roasted roaches would seem to be an elegant, if disgusting, solution to a serious problem. Ah, but don’t send in the manuscript for your Caterpillar Cookbook just yet, because there are a few issues with katydid cuisine. First, you couldn’t use insects to feed starving Jews because bugs aren’t Kosher. You also couldn’t use them to feed starving Muslims because they’re not halal. Starving Buddhists, I gather, could eat the bugs as long as somebody else killed them (the bugs, not the Buddhists).

Where was I?

Oh, right. Solving world hunger. So even if you could use bugs to feed everybody except lillianchou[1]Jews and Muslims, there’s another problem with the insect solution. According to the U.N. report, there aren’t enough insects in the world to feed everybody. This is quite a shock to me. Some 35 years ago, when I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I thought there were enough insects in my apartment to feed everybody.  And they could certainly come to my backyard now and round up enough of those 17-year cicadas for a major buffet.

Nevertheless, the report says that, to feed more people, they’d have to use mechanization to ratchet up insect farming production. This is already being done, according to the report, by the fish bait industry.

This raises several important questions:

  1. There’s a fish bait industry? I thought it was just some guy named Elmer digging for worms in his backyard.
  2. Is there a fish bait industry magazine and, if so, is there a swimsuit edition?
  3. Do insect farmers spray their crops to keep apples away?
  4. When singing “Old MacDonald’s Insect Farm,” what lyrics come after “And on this farm he had some fleas, E-I-E-I-O. With a…”?

The report goes on to mention that, compared to meat, most insects are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases, and also feed on human and food waste, compost and animal slurry.

insect_sushi_04[1]I think I could have guessed that an ant produces less greenhouse gas than, say, a cow, although I’m not sure how you know when an ant farts. The fact that insects feed on human waste means this is the ultimate recycling scheme, although perhaps the U.N. should leave that part out as a talking point when trying to get people to eat the things. Also, I believe this is the first time in my life I’ve ever used the word “slurry,” but I think it is one of those words that somehow naturally conveys it’s meaning. I see the term “animal slurry” and I get a very definitive image in my head that I suspect is pretty close to accurate, although I sort of want to take that image and put a fringe on top of it.

I’ll give you a moment to get that one, if, indeed, you are old enough to get it.  If you’re not, you need to click this link to listen to a certain number from Oklahoma although, frankly, that was an awful pun I made and it’s probably not worth the effort to watch the video in order to get it, unless you want to raise your cultural awareness of classic Broadway showtunes.

What was I talking about again?

Right–the U.N. Project. It is called the Edible Insect Program (or Y.U.C.C.H.), and it has so much potential, it’s already expanding to include spiders and scorpions although they are not technically insects, or edible. And then, of course, U.N. report deploys the “delicacies in some parts of the world” argument, noting that caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices.

Which raises two more questions:

  1. If they command high prices, how are all those poor, hungry people going to be able to afford them?
  2. How many weaver ant eggs do you need to crack to make an omelet?

Bottom line? Everybody should really just live where the food is.

See you soon.

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