2017-07-04 / Front Page

A fly in my soup

ON SIX LEGS
BY TOM TURPIN PROFESSOR OF ENTOMOLOGY PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Anyone remember this: “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!” There are many punch lines for that old joke including, “No sir, that’s a cockroach. The fly is on your steak.”

It has been suggested that the joke may have originated at a New York restaurant named Lindy’s, where the waiters were notoriously rude. That is not likely to be the case because Lindy’s opened in 1921, and the joke appeared in print prior to that time. For instance, in 1881, the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Daily Gazette printed the following: “Here’s a fly in my soup, waiter.” “Yes, sir; very sorry, sir, but you can throw away the fly and eat the soup, can’t you?” “Of course, I can; you don’t expect me to throw away the soup and eat the fly, did you?”

The “fly in my soup” jokes highlight the notion that insects are disgusting and finding one in our food is really yucky! So the idea of eating an insect is “double yucky,” as some of my young friends put it.

I remember the first time I gave much thought to the idea of eating insects. It was in the mid- 1970s when I was asked to do an entertaining presentation for 4-H Roundup at Purdue. I decided to do an “Insects as Food” demonstration. I had just read a book called “Butterflies in My Stomach” by Ronald Taylor. As the title suggests, the book was all about insects as human food.

Taylor referenced a book titled “Why Not Eat Insects?” by British entomologist Vincent M. Holt, first published in 1885. The little book was reprinted in 1967, 1969, 1973, and 1978 by E. W. Classey Ltd., and in 1988 by the British Museum.

Holt writes in the preface of his book: “In entering upon this work I am fully conscious of the difficulty of battling against a long-existing and deep-rooted public prejudice. I only ask of my readers a fair hearing, an impartial consideration of my arguments, and an unbiassed judgment. If these be granted, I feel sure that many will be persuaded to make practical proof of the expediency of using insects as food.” Apparently, Holt was well aware that persuading people to eat insects would not be an easy sell.

Both Taylor and Holt point out in their books that consumption of insects as a food – known as entomophagy – is as old as humankind. For instance, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, that dates in its present form to approximately 500 BCE, locusts (grasshoppers) are listed as kosher species under Jewish dietary law. Just before the time of Christ, John the Baptist consumed “locusts and wild honey” while wandering in the wilderness. When the first European settlers arrived in the New World, they found that Native Americans ate cicadas. It is only in modern times and primarily in Western cultures that the notion of using insects as human food has been held in disdain.

One might assume that negativity about consumption of insects prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to include these creatures in its 1995 “Food Defect Action Levels” booklet. Actually, the rationale for the inclusion was to reduce insecticide residues resulting from attempts to eliminate insects from crop or storage spaces.

The booklet lists acceptable amounts of stuff such as mold, rodent feces, or insects and insect fragments permitted in a given measure of a food item. For instance, 60 aphids in 3.5 ounces of frozen broccoli, or an average of 15 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots in 12 subsamples of 100 grams each of tomato paste. The booklet defines insects as an aesthetic problem – not something that is a health hazard.

Today, the idea of using insects as human food is gaining traction in North America and Europe. Some people argue that insect consumption can help solve the world food crisis. Insects are generally more efficient in terms of feed input versus protein output than most of our traditional meat animals.

Some companies that produce large quantities of insects as food for animals have been around for years. Recently, new insect-producing companies have sprung up in order to capitalize on an increasing demand for insects to be consumed by humans. Chocolatecovered crickets or mealworm stir-fry, anyone?

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