You’ve heard of a mealworm, but have you ever heard of a meal of worms?
If DUMBO dietary iconoclast Marc Dennis has his way, people will soon swarm to eat insects.
Where most people see the harbingers of disease, Brooklyn’s leading entomophagist (that’s bug-eater to you and me) sees his next meal. He urges people to get beyond the “yuck factor” and chow down on bugs, because they’re healthy and environmentally friendly — especially compared to staples like fatty beef and penned-up poultry.
It’s simply a matter of getting across one of Western civilization’s greatest culinary boundaries.
“Insects today are what sushi was two decades ago,” Dennis said.
Unlike Kafka’s famous novella, there will not be an overnight metamorphosis with eating habits. Dennis, his wife and a small hive of others are slowly converting people to the joy of bug-eating through sporadic dinner parties in Dennis’s Washington Street loft.
The menu items? Mouth-watering treats such as cricket pad thai, mealworm French fries, roasted “bamboo worms” (they’re actually moth pupae, but the less said, the better) with wasabi dipping sauce and, for dessert, chocolate chirp cookies.
Reporters from The Brooklyn Paper sampled an abbreviated menu in Dennis’s home — abbreviated not because the reporters were repulsed but because Dennis ran out of bugs.
The crickets have a similar texture to eating a shrimp still in the shell, though the flavors are not analogous. Crickets have a strong taste that fills the maw. The bamboo worms had a slight crunch and potato-like mouthfeel.
These little buggers aren’t just hopping with flavor, they’re a healthy supplement.
Nutritional content posted on Dennis’s Web site — www.insectsarefood.com — says that pound-for-pound, crickets are a much leaner source of protein than beef, which is four times fattier than the chirpers. Insects also meet kosher dietary standards (it has to do with the position of their legs relative to their bodies — you can look it up) — so l’chaim!
But before you go foraging for the other brown meat in Prospect Park, there are warnings: people who are allergic to shellfish should avoid insects. And no one should net brightly colored species of insects — they may be poisonous.
Bugs also present environmental advantages. Raising insects also does not require the intensive fossil-fuel burning methods of cattle ranching.
Of course, insects have been regularly ingested in Asia, Africa and Latin America for ages, making Brooklynites, Americans and bourgeois society in general late to the insect craze — much in the way that our culture was the last to discover tea, yoga, abstract art and preemptive war.
“Eurocentric cultures are afraid,” Dennis said.
But the fortysomething artist never was.
“It goes way back to high school when I was drunk at a party and somebody challenged me to eat moths,” Dennis recounted. “I ate 17 moths at $1 a pop.”
He admitted to eating far dirtier substances — some produced by his own body — on another dare in college.
These days, he’s the one paying good money to gobble up pests.
The large, one-inch-long and allegedly pesticide-free crickets Dennis purchases from a dealer in Thailand cost 25 cents each. He buys other creepy crawlies from pet stores, much to the amusement of the shopkeepers.
Yet even Dennis has limits.
He’s made a 180-degree turn from his intoxicated high school years, now refusing to eat live bugs.
“That’s just gross — strictly ‘Fear Factor’ stuff,” he sniffed.