Plus, “insects have a lot of protein and calcium and fat, which is important in the Third World. Insects are part of our lives. They’re all good foods. Most are low in cholesterol, although some are higher. Only the really highly colored ones are dangerous.” The monarch butterfly, for instance, famously makes birds sick because it feeds on milkweed, which contains a poisonous latex, he says.
And for context, he points out: “I have a friend on the FDA and know there’s a rather large tolerance for insects in food in this country. It’s likely the average American is eating a pound or two a year of insects in little bits. If you want to avoid insects, avoid raisins.” Flour also has tiny beetle eggs, he says, and an ear of corn on which you spot one big caterpillar may have “who knows how many eggs and little ones in it.”
“It’s totally a psychological thing. It’s inexplicable to me that people eat lobster and shrimp. They’re creepier than insects.” He eats both, however, although his favorite food is steak. Except in Argentina, he says, where there is little else: “Salad might be a single leaf of lettuce.”
His best meals have been in China, in Yunnan Province (near Burma and Laos) and Sichuan province (at the Tibet border). “You can go to places where they come out with 20 to 30 courses: banana flowers, river moss, wasps, all kinds of weird stuff. Everything’s absolutely amazing. Then you go in the back and it’s just a wok and a dirt floor and you wonder, How in the heck do they do that?”
But has Dr. Bugs ever knowingly eaten the scourge of New York? “I came close once. I was traveling in Asia with a girlfriend and we came out of the rain forest and went to the best steak restaurant in Penang and there was a large German cockroach on the plate. I got her to look the other way [and got rid of it] because I knew if she saw it I was not going to be eating steak.”
Regina Schrambling is a longtime food writer in New York City best known for her acerbic Web site, Gastropoda.com. She is a former deputy editor of the New York Times Dining section who now writes for outlets ranging from Plate to Endless Vacation, and also blogs at Epicurious.com. Her last article for Gourmet Live was on Homeboy Industries.