Eating Insects for Survival

Would you have a problem eating insects?

Consider this: what do you do when you’re in the savanna, hungry, perilously weak and nearly out of energy, but you’re out of trail mix, Clif bars and filet mignon? (Hey, it could happen.) 

You lift up the nearest log and feast on the creepy crawlies squirming underneath, of course.

eating insects - larval saladLarval Salad. Courtesy of the USDA.

Eating Insects Not For You?

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we should all take a serious look at eating bugs, survival emergency or not. 

As of 2013, FAO estimates that at least 2 billion people worldwide consume over 1,900 different species of insect in their daily life. (“Aw, Mom, stinkbugs again?”)

And why not? Generally speaking, bugs are high in protein, low in fat and provide many vital nutrients you might have trouble finding during a survival emergency in the wild. For instance, mealworms have more omega 3 and 6 than beef or pork and gram-for-gram have comparable levels of protein, vitamins and minerals as fish or meat.

If you’re still not convinced, you’ll be happy to learn that you’re already eating bugs. You just don’t know it. 

For instance, according to USDA guidelines:

  • cornmeal may have up to 24 insect fragments per 25 grams

  • canned fruit juice may have up to 4 fly eggs per 250 ml

  • canned mushrooms may have 20 maggots of any size per 100 grams

Bon appetite.

Eat the Young

Many are squeamish about eating insects because, aside from the fact that bugs are disgusting, vile little creatures, they’re not sure whether eating insects is safe or not.

Actually, nearly a vast majority of plant and aquatic insect larvae can be safely eaten, because their grownup defense mechanisms aren’t fully-developed during their larval stage. What’s more, it’s nearly impossible to run out of insect larvae to eat, as they’re one of the most abundant life forms on earth—which is more than can be said for yummy mountain gorilla or white rhino.

In fact, eating insects and their larvae has been a common practice in some African, Asian, South American and even European countries for millennia. There are countries that have local delicacies that call for locusts, fried beetles, silkworms, and other insect larvae. In some countries, insects are made into candy, or used as a garnish in tequila.

Most Popular Edible Insects

According to the FAO, the “most commonly eaten insect groups are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leaf and plant hoppers, scale insects and true bugs, termites, dragonflies and flies.”

Most insects in their adult stage are cooked, usually fried, in order to improve taste, texture and to kill any parasites they may carry, like tapeworm.

I’ve personally eaten grasshopper, cricket and mealworm. The crickets and mealworms were commercially-prepared, dried and crunchy. The crickets were dusted with sea salt and the mealworms were barbecue flavored. Really.

They were tasty, crunchy, very light, and as such, should be eaten with the front teeth because they have a tendency to stick in molars.

How to Kill and Cook Grasshopper for Survival

As a kid, my friends and I would see who could catch the most grasshoppers. (It was a simpler time.) We ran around at recess, pouncing on hoppers, as we called them, then placed them in zip lock bags. This continued until the teachers found out we were bringing the bags of grasshoppers inside the school and storing them in our lockers. So to rekindle my youth, and as an experiment in entomophagy, I decided to dust off my hopper-catching skills. 

To catch grasshoppers, wait for them to land, then cover them with cupped hands. As the grasshopper crawls to the light, gently pinch their large back legs together; you want the grasshopper intact. If you have a net, great, but grasshoppers are slow and if you move quickly can catch them bare handed with relative ease.

To kill, twist and pull off the head (this removes the entrails). Then, when you have four or five, skewer them lengthwise on a stiff piece of green grass, leaving space in between each ex-hopper.

To cook, roast over a fire for a few minutes, until the grasshoppers are browned, but not burned. They’re crunchy and unless seasoned, don’t have much flavor.

But in a survival situation, it's the energy, not the taste, that matters.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.