Eating bugs: Part 1 - You already have!

Eating bugs is often seen as gross by some living in the United States, but you probably have already eaten them.

Preparing to eat a Giant Water Bug
Preparing to eat a giant water bug by Nicole Ferguson

Would you eat a bug? Why or why not? While true bugs are only insects in the order Hemiptera, in this Michigan State University Extension article, the word “bug” is used as a generic term for insects and other invertebrates.

Some folks are disgusted by eating insects, but many of our food habits might be considered disgusting upon closer examination. Letting milk come into contact with bacteria to make yogurt and cheese might seem strange. The process of sausage making is seen as gross by some folks. The idea of eating reproductive structures of plants could be considered weird. If you called eggs unfertilized chicken embryos, you might get some strange looks, but that is what they are. Why do you think some foods are considered abnormal and others are not?

Shrimp, crab and other crustaceans are very bug-like, and many people eat them. Look at pictures of living shrimp and insects. How are they the same and different? Why might eating one be considered strange and another normal?

In reality, you probably have already eaten bugs. Shellac is a substance collected from the secretions of the lac bug and is used in many candies to give them a pretty shine, including jelly beans, Whoppers, Milk Duds and candy corn. It is sometimes called confectioners’ glaze or resinous glaze. 

Some foods, including Nerds candy and some strawberry yogurt, contain  , which comes from a scale insect to give it a reddish color. Carmine is also known as cochineal extract, natural red #4, or crimson lake. Carmine is preferred to other dyes because it stays bright for a long period of time, without fading.

In addition, bugs and bug parts often accidentally make their way into foods without realizing it. Foods are derived from plants and animals in nature, and bugs are part of the natural world. During harvesting, storage and processing, insects wind up in the stuff we eat. In fact, the United States Food & Drug Administration has a listing of action levels for insect parts in food. Does it matter to you if don’t know it is there? Would you react differently to seeing an entire bug, compared to knowing a bug is ground up in your food and you cannot see it at all? Why or why not?

In our next article, we will talk about different bugs that are eaten all over the world.

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