A few years ago I read an article about a man that was attempting to promote insects as food in the United States (and he’s not the only one). Insects, he argued, are an abundant food source and a more sustainable form of protein than the animals Americans typically eat, particularly cows. Raising cattle can be costly; each cow requires a vast amount of resources before they can be consumed. In fact, more energy goes into raising cows than we get back from eating them. Plus, cattle can produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Together with concerns about antibiotics and growth hormones administered to livestock and animal welfare issues associated with large, factory farms, some have grown dissatisfied with the system. Insects represent a food without the baggage.
That’s not entirely true, I suppose, as bugs could benefit from a public relations campaign. After all, they’re gross. But I was intrigued by the prospect of a cheap source of protein and my thoughts kept drifting to all the grasshoppers that would fly out of my way when I walked through the field next to my house. I kept telling myself that eating insects wasn’t really all that unusual, after all, many cultures have eaten insects throughout history.
When a friend announced that she was hosting a potluck dinner with the requirement that dishes needed to contain ingredients that we foraged for ourselves, I had the excuse I had been waiting for. I would make fried grasshoppers. I started referring to them as hopper poppers, hoping a catchy name would remove images of antennaes and wings from everyone’s thoughts.
Catching the grasshoppers proved to be more difficult than I had planned. I didn’t recall have any problems catching bugs when I was a kid (no, I didn’t eat them). But after I ran around my yard pouncing after grasshoppers, I was left sprawled on the ground, arms outstretched in a futile attempt to grab one. They would see me before I could see them; grasshoppers erupted out of the grass and flew away as I walked, always just out of reach. I hoped that nobody was watching. Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to get something to eat, I imagined explaining.
A change in strategy was warranted. After borrowing a sweep net I was ready to try again. I rapidly swung the net back and forth in front of me as I strode through the tall grass, hoping that I was snagging grasshoppers as I went. It was tiring work. After about ten minutes or so I ventured a glance into the net and I was pleased to see a wriggling mass of insects at the bottom.
I kept the grasshoppers alive overnight so they’d have a change to purge themselves of anything in their digestive system and then I placed them in the freezer. After a quick bake in the oven to ensure they were cooked through, I dipped them in egg and breaded them in a mixture of flour, bread crumbs, garlic powder and oregano. After that, they only needed to be deep fried for about 20-30 seconds before they were crisp and golden brown. My roommate used about 20 grasshoppers to dip in melted chocolate.
So there we were, standing in our kitchen looking at about 100 prepared grasshoppers. All that was left was to eat them. With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and threw one in my mouth. They were good! They tasted just like anything else you might deep fry. Although the recipe called for removing the wings and legs, we decided that the ones I had caught were so small it would probably be okay to leave them on. Nevertheless, I will probably remove these parts next time (if there is a next time), or at least have a toothpick handy.
When we arrived at the potluck, everyone wanted to see me eat one first so they knew this wasn’t an elaborate plan to get them to eat bugs while I laughed. After I obliged, everyone tried at least one. Elaborate ruse or not, I still thought it was funny.