How to make sure you are never invited to another potluck. EVER.

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Ah, the Holidays. The season when introverted curmudgeons like me….are fairly miserable and awkward, actually.  I’m not good enough at small talk to do well at holiday gatherings:

“What are you doing for Christmas?”
“Um….lamenting the over-commercialization of your imaginary savior dude’s birth? And avoiding my family?”

Over the years, I’ve perfected a way to free myself from the stress of having to whip up a special dish for the obligatory office potluck.  I’ve carefully developed a reputation for insect cookery. I casually make sure everyone in the office knows this.

Since I’m in a new job this holiday season, I made sure to loudly ask my coworkers where the bait shops are in our town.  I need a bait shop for the key ingredient in my traditional holiday John the Baptist Bread, you see.

This bread’s name comes from a passage in Mark 1.6: “And John was dressed with the hairs of a camel and with a belt of skins around his loins, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”  I skip the camel hair part–I have quite sensitive skin–and substitute in roasted crickets, since locusts are hard to come by in Connecticut in mass quantities.

You grind roasted crickets into flour (a coffee grinder is excellent for this, but you will find the odd antenna in your coffee later on) and mix it with lots of honey to make a very nice little cake.  It’s actually quite delicious.

This year I already have gotten word that I don’t have to do any roasting or baking, though. I achieved my goal of being dis-invited to the potluck early–I’ve been instructed to bring only a bag of chips and dip. In sealed containers.  WIN!

I don’t just eat insects to fuck with people (although that is an entertaining side effect). Entomophagy, or insect eating, is actually quite common in the world.  Insects are the ultimate sustainable agriculture, requiring far fewer resources than other forms of livestock, and they produce fewer greenhouse gas-causing emissions per pound of protein. And they are delicious!

I like to cook with insects to make people think about why they would be excited if I brought shrimp cocktails to the potluck, but horrified if I brought them a grasshopper curry.  Both are arthropods, and frankly grasshoppers have a more appealing lifestyle. For some reason, Americans don’t think of insects as food, although an estimated 40% of the world’s population eats insects on a semi-regular basis.

This graphic shows in a nice visual way how most of the food that goes into a cow…does not become part of a cow. It ends up in a little steamy pile behind the cow, since they aren’t terribly efficient at converting grass or corn into cow meat or milk.  Insects, on the other hand, are just as protein rich as a cow or a pig, can be bred under your bed (I haven’t seen your bed, but I’m betting you don’t have pigs under there), and have a high profit margin.

efficiency of food production

Note that the meat processing is where a lot of the profit comes from–which is why what farmers get paid and the price you actually pay at the store are sometimes extremely different.    The nice thing about insects is that there isn’t a whole lot of post-mortem processing to do, other than perhaps removing the wings.  You don’t need a professional or sharp pointy tools to carve a grasshopper rump roast.

Insects are a great way for subsistence farmers to make some cash–and raise nutritious food without a lot of land, water, or resources.  100 grams of caterpillars can provide all of an adult’s recommended daily protein, along with iron and several important vitamins.  That’s a lot cheaper and more sustainable than a steak!

So, while I have been excused from bug cookery for the upcoming potluck, I do still have a secret evil plan to expose my co-workers to entomophagy and convince them it’s cool.  I found some big-ass ants on sale.

Seriously, that’s their name: Big-Ass ants.  In Columbia, where they are harvested, they are “hormigas culonas.”  Big-Ass Ants are leafcutter ants  (Atta laevigata), and have long been eaten in Central America.   I had some queen leaf-cutter ants, Atta texana, earlier this year courtesy of Dave Gracer when I came up to interview for this job.

(What? You don’t arrange clandestine cookery of edible insects when you have a faculty interview? Huh.)  The ones Dave cooked for me were awesome–they had kind of a nutty Chex Mix taste. I could totally see snacking on those like popcorn.

So, when I saw these toasted ants on sale, I made an impulse purchase.

Alas, I did not read the fine print carefully, and so was a tad disappointed when my rather smallish tin of ants arrived.  I have photographed them here next to an Altoids tin.  They don’t quite have the wonderful taste of the texana ants–they are a bit dry and dusty–but still have a lovely nutty taste.  And they do indeed have a lot of junk in their trunk–it’s just about all butt, with a tiny head and legs attached.

It turns out that the Altoid tin is exactly the right size to carry all the ants in–so that I can put it in my pocket and offer up ants as an appetizer at the staff potluck.  I am trying to figure out what dip might best go with them–I think hummus would actually be pretty good, with the ants substituted for pine nuts.

Fat Bottom Ants, you make my rockin’ world go round.

14 thoughts on “How to make sure you are never invited to another potluck. EVER.

  1. I wouldn’t mind being invited to potlucks, but I suspect that my vegan dishes would not be quite as strangely looked upon and insect-based foods. Though I would probably not be very popular for not eating other people’s foods.

    I won’t rehash the pro-entomophagy (in regards to vegetarianism/veganism) arguments I made on G+. I still think it’s acceptable, but somewhat of a grey area and as such I will pass on the arthropoda.

    Still, hilarious article. I can’t see the objection meat-eaters would make to eating arthopoda, especially since they’re a superior food in regards to animal products!

  2. Fair points…I try not to munch on anything cow or bug, but that’s me…I was looking back in your posts an one entitled..things do get better…it reminded me of my daughter’s experience just a few years ago in a Ph.D program… mostly males and being told that women do not belong there by a couple of fellow (male) grad students. It was all I could do not to get in the car with a baseball bat..but wait, I am non-violent, but I could make an exception…cretins…cretins…

  3. Midnight Rambler

    Okay, I’ll state upfront that I am an entomologist, have eaten bugs (the satay scorpions at ESA a few years ago were pretty damn good), and am not just coming at this from the “ick” factor. The thing is, for crustaceans like shrimp and lobsters, we eat mostly the muscles, much like with cows and pigs. And I have no doubt that the big hunk o’ meat in the middle of a cicada would be equally as good. But with things like crickets, there’s really not a whole lot of muscle; most of what you’re eating is literally the guts. If they’re mature the reproductive organs take up a big chunk of the abdomen, so those are probably okay. But there can also be a lot of fat body, which is nasty.

  4. Midnight Rambler

    I should qualify that by mentioning I was talking about regular house crickets. If you get some good-sized flying crickets, I bet their thoraxes would make good poppers.

  5. Our local public library has a “local foods” potluck every year. I was going to catch grasshoppers and fry them up with butter this year for my contribution, but couldn’t catch enough of them with the methods I tried, and had to fall back on making a mulberry pie. I’m told that the organizer of the potluck was extremely relieved that the fried grasshoppers fell through.

    But there is always *next year!* Bwahahahaha!

    For that matter, there is a species of ant that has a mating flight every fall that is quite delightful. The female reproductives are nicely tart, like tiny little lemons. I think it’s the formic acid.

  6. I think it’s hilarious how they shut out your cooking just because they are afraid of entomophagy. It’s like if you were an egg enthusiast and you were going to make quiche, except people found out and asked you not to because eating eggs is weird and who would ever want to eat /that/.

  7. Frederick Gralenski

    A nice little bit of holiday recipes. More! More! In Maine, I’ve eaten carpenter ants and beetle larvae (grubs) in the winter with a nice sugary (antifreeze), so the ants have a sweet and sour flavor.
    Cheers,

    Fred

  8. I’m glad to hear a review of the big ass ants from someone who’s actually tried them because I decided a while back that they’re going to be my first edible insect eating adventure. They’ve sounded quite delicious to me, and your description isn’t deterring me from my goal one bit.

  9. Great stuff! The one I find particularly weird is when people are willing to tear off a massive lobster claw and crack through the exoskeleton to reach the flesh inside, but a small grub is way too much.

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