The last word on nothing redux meal, worm electricity symbols ks2

I eat meat. Most kinds. Beef, pork, chicken, bison, turkey.* Dark meat, white meat, legs, breasts. I’m not big on lamb—too much flavor, or perhaps too fragrant. Same goes for goat and venison. And I say no to veal, no matter how delicious it may be. Not that other farm animals aren’t treated poorly, but those little lambs immobile in those tiny crates…I can’t stand it.

Even if we promise to be cruelty free, those of us who are carnivores think little about carving away parts of animals to gobble down the protein and fat and vitamins disguised within. And yet, when we think about another kind of meat, insect meat, we cringe in disgust.

Of course, it’s all about what you’re used to. People who grow up with insects (and their insect-like relatives) for dinner don’t consider them unpalatable. But those who shriek bloody murder at a spider sighting or own the long-handled “bug vacuum” (try SkyMall) to avoid close encounters are less likely to order grasshopper tacos, if given the option. Give us our ground up cow or shredded chicken any day.

I’ve asked around. Part of what turns some away from entomophagy (insect eating) is the idea that you are eating the whole animal then and there. A baking sheet in the oven with rows of caterpillars—full bodies, lots of legs, and eye-topped stalks intact—is somehow harder to stomach than the wings of a bird on a grill (which don’t really look like what they are at that point). And there’s the “ick” factor of bugs to begin with. Other than spidery basements or mothy pantries, most modern houses are pretty good at keeping insects out. And when bugs do find gaps and sneak in, we are willing to spray noxious chemicals rather than spoon a weevil out of our oatmeal.

We’re fooling ourselves, though: We actually eat a lot of insects without knowing it. Applesauce, catsup, peanut butter, cranberry sauce—very buggy stuff. Veggies, fruits, nuts. Really, in the United States just about all food is allowed to have some insect bits mixed up in it (along with some rodent hair and mold, just FYI). Consider canned tomatoes and tomato juice: Per 100 grams of product the FDA says okay to 10 or more fly eggs OR 5 or more fly eggs plus one or more maggots OR two or more maggots. Take your pick. (Actually, if you ever saw the oozing rotting pile of tomatoes that gets set aside for catsup, you’d switch to mustard anyway.)

Spoon up 100 grams of peanut butter and you may be getting 30 or more insect fragments (plus a rodent hair and some inorganic grit). Asparagus—frozen or canned: 10 percent can be infested with six or more attached beetle eggs and/or sacs, and 40 or more thrips per 100 grams. Ground paprika may be home to more than 75 insect fragments per 25 grams (and more than 11 rodent hairs), while delicious cinnamon might have 400 or more insect pieces per 50 grams. Got beer? Hops can house more than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams. Chug! Chug!

Of course, around the world—especially in Asia, Africa, and South America—there are scores of people eating scores of insects on purpose, which makes a lot of sense. The FAO (the food arm of the UN) wants to help feed the hungry this way, and has been encouraging the rest of us to get over our squeamishness so that we in Western countries can start plating our agricultural and invasive pests and farm-raising a host of nutritious species. We’re talking extremely space- and water-efficient crops that could provide food to millions of people, once we design sustainable set-ups and decide which insects are worth the effort. (There’s research to be done, as always.)

I was 10 or 11 years old. My brother and I were settled down in front of the TV to watch after-school cartoons. I had taken a previously opened package of Oreo cookies from the kitchen cabinet to munch on. After eating quite a few cookies, my brother observed that I had several crumbs on my shirt. It was only a few seconds after that that I realized all of those crumbs, were in fact, small black ants. There were thousands of them in the package and the Oreo I had in my hand was completely “alive”. –Bob E.

At a farmhouse in rural Guatemala, the family served us rice loaded with what looked like black pepper. They were hundreds of cooked weevils. I ate it. My companion avoided it and (rudely) mentioned it to the family, and they responded, “Yes, those are weevils, they live in the rice.” –Joe M.

My mom was out hanging laundry on the line and I was minding my own Ps & Qs in my pack-n-play. Along came a caterpillar, a fuzzy, fat, green one. When my mom came over I was happily chewing away—then she realized what it was. She gave me the frantic finger swipe to clean out my mouth… –Laura F.

At a family birthday party, my dad went out to the garbage bin behind our garage. When he got back, his coffee and his slice of chocolate cake was at his place setting. We all sang happy birthday and started on the cake. My dad dropped a hunk on his shirt, so he scooped it with his fork and put in his month. Suddenly he spit it out into his hand. It was a brown slug. He must have leaned against it in the garbage bin. What really got to him were the horns and two eyes looking back at him…. –Kate E.

A little soup had spilled on the counter, and there were a few noodles that had fallen over by the stove, and I went to wipe them up. One of the noodles moved on the Formica. I looked again. It moved some more. It writhed. One could just barely distinguish the head; the multiple sets of legs were easy to see, once you looked…. [In the bottom of the bowl] there were three noodles, but one wasn’t. A noodle…. –Adam S. (who flossed that night)

(Macaroni and noodle products: FDA allows an average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in 6 or more samples (plus 4.5 rodent hairs for good measure). Assumption: FDA not responsible for insect accumulation in Raman package after a decade in someone’s desk drawer.)

My own cringe-worthy memory is of being very, very hungry and finding a very, very old box of raisins in the back of a cupboard. I tore off the top and began shoving handfuls into my mouth. The texture was very gritty and strange, but as mentioned, I was really hungry.

Finally, I stopped long enough to look at what was in my hand (and to pick something hard out of my teeth). I’m still not sure exactly what it was, but it appeared that dried up ant bodies and ant eggs had replaced all raisin material. Any fruit I was getting had been pre-digested.

Michelle and Ann are both in the 2017 edition of Best American Science and Nature Writing, Michelle for The Parks of Tomorrow in National Geographic, Ann for Inside the Breakthrough Starshot Mission to Alpha Centauri in Scientific American. Notable mentions in the same edition were Christie’s Failure is Moving Science Forward in FiveThirtyEight.com and Erik’s Why Great Sharks Are Still a Mystery to Us for National Geographic.

Michelle and ex-LWONian Erika Check Hayden were each finalists in the (also big-deal) National Academies’ 2017 Communication Awards/Keck Futures Initiative. Michelle co-finalized for articles in National Geographic on climate change, Erika for articles in Nature on CRISPR-Cas9.

Christie won a 2016 AAAS-Kavli Science Journalism award (big deal) for a FiveThirtyEight.com series on p-hacking your way to scientific glory. One of that series, called Science Isn’t Broken also won a Kantor Information is Beautiful award. Classic Christie: “When the first analysis you try doesn’t spit out the result you want, you keep trying until you find one that does.”

Erik’s first book, called Suggestible You, just came out. Apparently when you’re raised Christian Scientist, you develop an abiding interest in what affects peoples’ beliefs. Classic Erik: “Your brain doesn’t want to be wrong — and in order for expectation to match reality, it’s willing to bend a few rules or even cheat outright.”