Today, on an all-new Let’s Get Real…So, this cricket walks into a bar…
I’ve dealt with my share of roaches and mice and other vermin over the years, but twenty years ago, when I bought my (mercifully) cheap loft in Brooklyn, I seemed to have found my vermin-free paradise. My theory was that the angry-faced, scary-surly Romanian super who I thought hated me (turned out I just wasn’t tipping enough to get a “like” from him) was keeping the bugs and critters out simply by being his surly, stern Eastern European self. I figured he basically bullied and terrorized them into staying away.
I was so scared of him I thought the vermin were, too. I saw nary a roach for 17 years. One or two big so-called “waterbugs” would scuttle through each summer, but I’d quickly dispatch it with the heel of my chef’s clog.
Then something changed, and suddenly we got buggy. I’m pretty sure it was some construction in the building that caused it because suddenly, we had roaches. Big ones, baby ones, weird-looking ones of a species I’d never seen, it was classic NYC all over again. So we got the exterminator in, since despite my fear and loathing of all things chemical, sometimes you gotta call in the big guns. And now, instead of scuttling, running, hiding roaches, we have staggering, upside-down flailing, dying roaches. It’s pretty. It looks like the civil war battlefield scene from the end of “Gone With The Wind”, acted out by insects. A cast of thousands…of roaches.
Now, as a chef, and person who makes her living screaming at (ok, exhorting) people to eat real food, the irony of killing and discarding these potential sources of protein who were freely roaming my kitchen, like tiny wild-raised game animals, or miniature grazing pastured cattle just there for the harvesting, was not lost on me. I know all sorts of insects are eaten around the world, and they are a valuable and sustainable source of protein for bazillions of people…just not us.
80% of the world regularly eats over 1,600 species of insect. But We Americans, we don’t do bugs.
Oh, we’ll stuff our chubby faces with unlimited farmed shrimp at the buffet, or pay $17 (!) for a tiny lobster roll from a food truck, or spend sweaty summer nights hitting crabs with a mallet and picking out annoyingly small bits of meat and shell (why I love soft-shell crabs, btw) but those are all ok, because they come from the sea. If it crawls across the ocean floor, we call it a delicacy. If it crawls across your kitchen floor, we smash it with a shoe. We discriminate based on evolution; as merely possessing the ability to breathe underwater designates a creepy-crawly thing with a hard shell and buggy eyes and multiple legs a tasty, epicurean delight. Land breathers, we step on you…but not always.
So on this show, come along with me to Ohio, to the Roots Conference at the Chef’s Garden, where I ate all kinds of vegetables, all kinds of underused proteins, and one kind of bug.