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Waiter, may I have flies in my soup?

Waiter, may I have flies in my soup?
Insects may be the next thing on the agenda of many eco-conscious chefs- but can they convince customers?
 
The latest research has indicated that putting insects on the menu could be beneficial for both world heath and the environment- a fact that will come as little surprise to the millions of individuals worldwide who happily chomp on the critters on a daily basis.
 
In fact, Southeast Asia is possibly the area most frequently associated with a love of all things insect. In her wonderful travelogue, 'Ant Egg Soup', Natascha Pont De Bie chronicles her Laotian search for the elusive titular dish. Meanwhile, the venerable Alan Davidson features the subject in his 'Oxford Companion To Food', stating that insect eating was the historical norm. Surely a notion any number of communities, including Australian bushmen and Mayan Aztecs, would agree with.
 
The contributors to '1001 Foods To Eat Before You Die' bring us further innovative ideas from areas as diverse as the Canton province of China and the Amazon Basin of Brazil. Here, giant water beetles and leaf cutter ants are the bugs of choice for the respective communities, apparently tasting of 'nutty shrimp' and 'strong butter'. Bee larvae are even more popular globally- enjoyed in Mexico, China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. Apparently, their milky, honeyed flavour lends itself to myriad flavour combinations from chocolate to chilli oil.
 
But perhaps it was Vincent M. Holt who pioneered the idea to Europeans- penning a curious little tome entitled 'Why Not Eat Insects?', first published in 1885. With recipes including Wasp grubs fried in the comb, Stag beetle larvae on toast, and Fried sole with woodlouse sauce, it's certainly one for the adventurous reader. Holt makes a convincing arguement for the case, though- addressing thorny issues involving common prejudices through an ingenious combination of culinary anthropology and sheer logic.
 
He certainly convinced the group of Americans who, in 1992, sat down to a Bacchanalian feast to celebrate the New York Entomological Society's 100th anniversary. The menu featured waxworms, crickets, larvae, mealworms and kurrajong grubs, and, by all accounts, was consumed with gusto. One of the key speakers, Dr Gene DeFoliart, even published the quarterly  'Food Insects Newsletter' for a more than a decade following the event, and continues to be inundated with emails, queries and ponderings on insect eating.
 
So, when street markets throughout Southeast Asia groan with stalls hawking every type of multiple-legged, winged beastie, and even notably fancy department stores are touting novelties like scorpion lollies and green Thai crickets, perhaps we should direct our concerns elsewhere. After all, who knows what weird and wonderful artificial ingredients go into creating the strange flavours on those gourmet goodies? And it's certain the fat that tarantula is deep-fried in will fur up your arteries a treat. When you put it into context, there's a lot more to worry about than merely ingesting the odd creepy-crawly.
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7 May 2011
By: Zoe Perrett
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