I don’t know if you regularly read the newspaper while eating, but if you do, I’ll just wait until you’re done.
Good. I want to talk about swallowing bugs.
See why I waited?
Most people you know ingest insects accidentally – folks like bare-faced motorcyclists or outdoorsy types. I’ve tasted a gnat or two during eight years’ worth of marching band.
Then there’s Edward Archbold.
I should say the late Edward Archbold. If you don’t recognize his name, you might recognize how he got in the news earlier this month.
Archbold entered a contest sponsored by a Florida reptile store. It was an eating contest. Whoever could gulp down the largest amount of bugs and worms would win an albino ball python valued at $850.
Beating about two dozen or so contestants, Archbold swallowed an assortment of creepie-crawlies, topped off by 3-inch-long cockroaches, and was declared the “winner.”
I put that word in quotes because, sadly, he doesn’t sound like much of a winner after what happened next. He vomited, collapsed in front of the store and was rushed by ambulance to a Broward County hospital, where he was declared not the “winner,” but “dead.”
As I write this, a medical examiner is still investigating the cause of death. And the cause might not be “gulping enough roaches to gag a goat.” It could’ve been an allergic reaction. Maybe he aspirated on his vomit. Choked on some pesky part of his final meal.
It’s a rare way to die – but not because eating bugs is rare. Apparently 80 percent of the world’s population eats insects, either as a snack or a diet staple. That’s what University of Georgia entomology professor Marianne Shockley Cruz told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
They cook termites in Africa. They munch on roasted ant bellies in Colombian movie theaters. Japan has candied grasshoppers.
I wish I could say I was surprised. Nope. Not after meeting Frank French.
Dr. French, now retired, was a biology professor at my alma mater, Georgia Southern University, and was known for at least two things: his fencing class (took it; got a gentleman’s “C”) and his field biology class. In it, his upperclassmen biology students would get more acquainted with the food possibilities of the natural world. It culminated with his “Leaf ’n’ Critter Cookoff,” in which each student had to prepare and taste a food item made with wild plants and/or insects.
What this meant for us folks at the local newspaper was that Dr. French was good for a feature story about once a year. We’d send a reporter to the cookoff to talk to the professor and his intrigued/mortified students, and to, um, sample the entries.
They’ve done it all. Pizza with termites. Kudzu quiche. Acorn tea. The mealworm sugar cookies I tried one year weren’t bad. But I couldn’t bring myself to try the variation on peanut brittle – cricket brittle.
Dr. French would tell us each year about how a lot of bugs are loaded with proteins and fats. But I’ve got to tell you – by the time you’ve frozen a tray of crickets and taken the time to behead them, pull their legs and wings off, roast them and chop them up, you’ll be thinking it’s a whole lot easier to just run down to the store and pick up a jar of peanuts.
Oh. About those peanuts …
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition publishes a snappy little read called the Defect Levels Handbook.
According to the FDA, “it is economically impractical to grow, harvest or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects … .” Because of that, the FDA sets “acceptable levels” of what it calls “defects” in commercially produced food. What it calls defects, we call mold, rodent hairs or insect parts.
So, for example, if you turn the handbook to the entry “Peanuts, Shelled,” you’d find the acceptable level of defects would be an average of “20 or more whole insects or equivalent in 100-pound bag siftings.”
Not that you’d actually get that in your jar of peanuts from the store.
That you know of.
But I wouldn’t let it bug you.