The Lady Novelist Gets Bugs in Her Teeth

bug ice creamWhen I was a kid and my brothers and I were pestering Mum about what was for tea, she used to tell us: “Stewed bugs and onions!” to annoy us in turn.

Today in London, the bugs may not have been stewed, and came with ice cream instead of onions, but the fact remains. I ate bugs today. To be more specific, I ate mealworms, and bits of crickets, grasshoppers and buffalo worms.

What’s more, I did it on purpose.

IMG_0173I was walking to Blackfriars tube station, you see, and I a sign saying ‘free ice cream’ with the picture to the above right, and I remembered a show I’d seen (Time for Dinner, I think) and read a few articles about the future of feeding protein to a hungry planet might be found in edible insects. Fascinated. I went up the cart and had a chat with the guys who were encouraging people to take up subscriptions with The Economist, which had run a story about edible bugs in the past.

In fact, I learn that this isn’t the first time The Economist has pulled this stunt, enticing Londoners to eat ice cream chock full of protein and crickets.

Filled with the spirit of inquiry, I thought I’d try both flavours on offer today: Scurry  Berry (blueberry, raspberry and insect bits) and the Strawberries and Swirls (strawberry with cream and mealworm swirl).

bug ice cream 1

The hardest part of the exercise was the mental recoil – but I reminded myself that insects have been part of diets around the world for hundreds of years, and that the French eat snails, and that the insects used in this dish were doubtless grown especially for the purpose, and then I put a spoon of ice cream and mealworms in my mouth and had my reactions captured by the nice lady at the stall.

eating bugs

For starters, the ice cream was very nice – the berry one was particularly good – and the insects did not impart any flavour that I could detect at all.

What they did impart was texture. A slightly crunchy texture, in the case of the mealworms, a slightly gritty texture in the case of the bug bits. The latter made me think of the kind of bran/lecithin sprinkles Mum used to put on her cereal. Sort of like bran husks but with less flavour. I made me cough a bit, though whether that was from the bits that felt like they were sticking to my palate and tongue or just from the idea they they were getting stuck there, I don’t know.

The whole thing was weird – everything tasted fine, though the texture of the bits was odd, so the idea of it was more troublesome than the fact of it. I ate most of the samples I’d been given, trying to get used to the notion, and didn’t really succeed – but as a protein solution for a world with so many people and ever-decreasing food production space, it may be something people will have to get used to.

Good on The Economist for trying something new, challenging and interactive to promote its product.

I’ve bitten the bullet (or bull-ant) for you, so you don’t have to, so I guess if it makes you want to subscribe you can do that.

If it makes you want to go out and eat a bug for science and the future of human nourishment, do that too, and let me know how you go.

And the thing that struck me as funniest about the whole experience?

The realisation, after I’d eaten the bug ice cream, that I’m a vegetarian now and shouldn’t have been eating it at all.