Go Fresh or Go Buggy (Reader Caution Advised)

This is one of those annoying things your friend who always looks everything up will tell you that you immediately wish you could erase from your mind. So I warn you, if you are the type who would rather not know, please don’t read any further.

So. Now that you’ve been warned: This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I became obsessed with wild mushrooms and learned that even the store-bought varieties often have miniscule larvae hiding in their gills. If one finds that disgusting but simultaneously worships chanterelles, what is one to do? Through a powerful combination of reasoning and vigorous exercises in denial, I finally came to accept it. After I accepted it, I did some research and discovered that lots of consumables have bugs in them, either because they contain certain dyes, or because they become contaminated during processing, or other sundry unsavory reasons. Here’s a short list off the top of my head:

  • Chocolate – up to 60 insect parts per 100 gram! That is a troubling bite from one’s Hershey bar.
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Tomato paste
  • Foods dyed red (and you might be surprised what seemingly naturally red foods are actually dyed that way; I dunno, say, strawberry jam?)
  • Peanut butter
  • Pretty much everything canned
  • That’s not all.

If you, like me, are the kind who really does have to know, then do an internet search on “bugs in your food” and read away. There are way more comprehensive and detailed references than the ones I’ve linked here, but I have deemed them just a bit too icky to post. If you wish to investigate further, you may do so at your own risk.

Meanwhile, what I have to say about the subject is this: Bugs are of the kingdom Animalia. Read: They’re animals. So if eating chicken or fish isn’t universally reviled, then why would eating bugs be so? And by the way, shellfish are arthropods, which is the same phylum as insects and spiders; they’re practically brothers. So why is it normal to eat crab but not wolf spider? Then there’s the fact that many cultures have always eaten bugs. At the risk of sounding un-American, I daresay that finding the eating of bugs to be unseemly is a uniquely Western and modern concept. And just maybe a little bourgeois? I mean, some people eat bugs because they’re starving and bugs provide free protein. So it would be classist of us to judge. Don’t get me wrong; as one who follows a mostly vegan diet, and also as one who is Western and admittedly rather bourgeois, I am totally skeeved out by the idea of eating bugs. But I also don’t relish the idea of eating dirt or chemicals, and those things are pretty much impossible to avoid.

In any case, I do still think it’s reasonable to want to avoid eating bugs as much as possible. And it seems to me from my research that the best approach is eating fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible and avoiding anything that’s ever been in a factory. For the most part, it’s the processing that lets the bugs in.

As for the controversy over the FDA acknowledging and permitting certain levels of bugs and other gross things in food, look at it this way: Requiring that foods be immaculate just means more pesticides and toxic flotsam being tossed into the system to control the naz. Which we certainly don’t want or need.

Speaking of the environment, the intentional practice of entomophagy has been said to be more ecologically sound and sustainable than meat production. Well OBVI. We don’t even need to feed bugs, they live on dust and dirt and other bugs. And furthermore, what animal resource is more naturally abundant than the 6-legged critters? (In Southern California, maybe chihuahuas. But elsewhere, nothing!)

Nevertheless. I’m not defending the FDA or saying people should start munching on household crickets (they probably have herbicides or other pollutants on them anyway*). And I’m certainly not here to be an “All food is unsafe!” type alarmist. I mean, I suppose maybe that’s true, but then again, life is unsafe. I could be sitting here blogging away and some random highly implausible flaw in my computer could cause it to blow up and result in the first ever blogging fatality known to science. So whatever. I’m just saying, let us not allow squeamishness to prevent us from eating or drinking delicious things. Like wild mushrooms, mimolette cheese, and foods dyed with cochineal bettles.


*I wish I had a handy reference for this, but all I have is a handful of websites about pet reptiles and the references are buried deep within the content. Basically the reason I know this is from researching the effects of feeding wild insects to geckos. Long story. The short story is that generally speaking, experts recommend against it because bugs pick up herbicides and other chemicals from the environment.

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