Michael Raupp, a professor of entomology and cicada expert at the University of Maryland who runs BugoftheWeek.com, shows his support of insects as a viable food source by snacking on cicadas whenever he gets the chance. "They have a very earthy taste, like a juicy nut," he says.
Fears of disease ingrained in insects are unfeasible, Raupp says, because entomological diseases, such as malaria, Dengue fever and Lyme disease, must enter the bloodstream, and humans don't become infected by eating insects. And, he points out, entomophagy occurs regularly in nature: "I mean, 2 million birds can't be wrong," he says.
So which bugs can you eat? Daniella Martin, who runs GirlMeetsBug.com, lists edible insects and their nutritional values on her website. She also provides recipes for treats like the "Bee-LT Sandwich" with sautéed bee larvae and deep fried scorpion. Martin says her favorite bugs to eat are wax worms, bees, wasps and fried bamboo worms.
One warning: Don't go into your backyard and start munching on the insects you find. Rather, buy farm-raised, healthy bugs that have been bred for the specific purpose of being eaten. Martin suggests Compton, California-based Rainbow Mealworms for your mealworm needs and Fluker Farms in Louisiana if you're into crickets. You can also find crickets, mealworms and other edible insects at your local pet store for about 12 cents apiece, or you can start up a breeding program of your own if you intend to eat insects regularly.
[Read: Best Fat-Burning Foods.]
The first step to introducing entomophagy into western diets is awareness, Raupp says – not just talking about the benefits of eating insects, but the broader subject of living with insects. "It's very difficult to change entrenched attitudes," he says. "I really focus on getting children interested and fascinated in nature because, unfortunately, western culture is often times totally disconnected with nature. They don't understand some fascinating aspects of nature like watching bugs, raising bugs and, in some cases, eating bugs."
Dicke says he believes the greatest hurdle standing in the way of entomophagy in North America and Western Europe is our culture, and overcoming that culture will require a shift in mindset from seeing insects as "pests" and "creepy-crawlies" to seeing them as delicacies, as much of the world already does. "As much as we'd like to think it, this is not a planet of human beings," Dicke says. "This is a planet of insects, and we're just being hosted by them."
If you're ready to experiment with insects in your kitchen, try this recipe for crêpes with mealworms from Dicke's cookbook, "Het Insectenkookboek." The recipe serves eight.
2/3 cup raisins
1 and 2/3 cups milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup soft white or light brown sugar
Scant 2 tablespoons butter
2 cups flour
Rounded 1/2 cup uncooked quick oats
1/2 cup buffalo worms (mealworms)
Sunflower oil for frying
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1. Wash the raisins, and soak in lukewarm water for 15 minutes.
2. On low heat, allow a scant 1/2 cup milk in a saucepan to become lukewarm. Stir in the yeast and the white or light brown sugar. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a damp tea towel and set it to rest in a warm place.