BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Chicago Sun-Times columnist
I remember it like it was yesterday.
“I penciled it in for the afternoon — a hot lunch date: Ms. Cepeda and Mr. Cicada,” I wrote for the May 22, 2007, edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I jumped at the chance to eat one of these pesky insects that every 17 years squirm out of their crunchy exoskeletons, wet and sticky.”
It was the height of the cicada silly season and I fully embraced it.
“Once in my mouth it only got off a few hairy-legged kicks before one decisive crunch did it in,” I wrote. “Papery and bland, it was not gooey-sour and far less crunchy than I’d imagined.”
Little did I know I was actually a sustainable organic food visionary.
At least that’s what I thought last week when I ran across several news articles highlighting the global food insufficiency problem and, separately, singing the praises of insects as edibles.
In a New York Times op-ed “Engineering food for all,” Nina V. Fedoroff, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, wrote: “Food prices are at record highs and the ranks of the hungry are swelling once again. A warming climate is beginning to nibble at crop yields worldwide. The United Nations predicts that there will be one to three billion more people to feed by midcentury . . . Civilization depends on our expanding ability to produce food efficiently.”
A few days later, David Lepeska of the Chicago News Cooperative introduced its readers to a Chicago outfit that’s trying to engineer that food by manufacturing insect meat.
Entom Foods, a startup that came together for a campus entrepreneurship and innovation competition last fall, was formed by five University of Chicago students.
They’re revolutionizing the concept of meat and hoping to feed the world by, gulp, “using High Pressure Processing technology to remove the exterior of the insect including its shell and wings [to] isolate the thorax meat [thereby making] insects more palatable similarly to removing the beak and feathers of a chicken.”
It’s not weird. Really, it’s not.
“Globalization is making different culture’s foods better known,” said Tommy Wu, a second-year economics and public policy major who is a member of Entom Foods. “I’m Chinese and I love roasted cicadas. If you go to Mexico they basically have fried ants and worms for sale at street vendor carts and they eat them as candy or as meat. In Vietnam there are insects on a stick, in Beijing you can get scorpions and grasshoppers the size of a finger.”
Let’s face it, a lot of American adults will never eat bugs. All the arguments about succulent preparations, insects’ higher protein value and lower carbon-footprint compared to beef, pork or chicken probably aren’t going to sway anyone over 14.
But we’re not going to run out of food today and Entom Foods — like other organizations out there promoting insects as the food of tomorrow — has a real shot with the adults of tomorrow.
In May 2010, I was in a gymnasium packed with squealing elementary school students cheering on master bug chef David George Gordon, author of The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, like he was a rock star.
A little butter, pepper and salt, and my two children — who normally turn their noses up at anything more exotic than cheese pizza — experienced their own culinary awakening to the pleasures of pan-fried scorpions, grasshoppers, and meal worms.
Believe me, Entom Foods is onto something.
If they can get kids hooked on bugs, they’ll have no problem getting restaurants and grocery stores to offer protein-dense, sustainably produced and darned tasty insects.