- The GrubmeisterDavid George Gordon Puts Bugs on the Menu
On April 21, 2016, David George Gordon spoke with Joshua Foer as part of the ongoing series “Amateur Hour,” in which various tinkerers, zealots, and collectors discuss their obsessions. Gordon, who is a science writer, is also known as “The Bug Chef.” He often travels around the country to put on live cooking performances that promote the nutritional value of insects. He is the author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, as well as other books about whales, cockroaches, and Sasquatch. The conversation that follows has been edited for brevity and meaning.
joshua foer: When most of us eat bugs, it’s by accident and usually precipitates a gag reflex. We think bugs are gross, but that’s not the case in most of the world.
david george gordon: That’s right. In our culture it’s like, “Get that damn thing out of the house!” But in Japan, for example, kids have pet beetles, and they take good care of them. I’ve even heard of kids burying their bugs that have died of old age in the backyard. In our culture, a beetle wouldn’t even make it into your bedroom, let alone be a prized possession. Around the world, particularly in countries that still have some connection with their indigenous roots, people eat insects. In Mexico, for example, they eat little caterpillars called gusanos de maguey. They eat chapulines, which are roasted and seasoned grasshoppers that are quite good. They eat all sorts of stuff—crickets, ant eggs, you name it—that are all pre-Hispanic foods that were eaten before settlement by Europeans.
How many varieties of insects are humans eating today?
The food-and-agriculture program of the UN came out with a magnificent report that lists all the different insects people are believed to eat. It’s something like 1,900 species. That’s a pretty extensive list. And that’s just what we know is already being eaten. Even among my friends, I’m always getting letters like, “Hey, is it okay to eat tent caterpillars?” There’s a lot of experimentation going on even in the United States, so that list might be an underestimate. It’s interesting: There are nearly 2 billion people worldwide who eat bugs, and to most of them it’s just another food group. It’s like going out and having green beans.
So how did you become the rare Westerner who is interested in eating insects?
I write for a living. In 1995, I was working on a book called The Compleat Cockroach, and that book had everything you could possibly want to know about cockroaches, including things like cockroaches in the movies, and what the song “La Cucaracha” is really about, that sort of stuff. There was a section I added about cockroaches [End Page 12] as food and medicine, and that really opened my eyes. Most of the information was in science journals—either anthropology or entomology journals. After a while I had a folder full of stories about edible insects around the world, and I got really curious: Why don’t we eat bugs? What’s our trip? Once I got more information, rather than write a scholarly text, I thought a cookbook would be a really cool way of getting my message across.
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Do you eat cockroaches?
Oh, yeah. Although I have to say, they don’t taste that good compared to other bugs. Cockroaches have kind of a chemical taste to them. That’s the bug itself; it’s not from people spraying them with roach spray.
How do you prep a cockroach to eat it?
Similar to crickets. First, I freeze anything I’m going to cook. It doesn’t really affect the flavor or the quality of the food, and it’s a humane way to kill the bugs. They’ll go in the freezer, drift off into a deep sleep, and never wake up. Once I’m done with that I can take them out. In the case of cockroaches, I usually soak them in lemon...