Tuesday, 4th November 2008
The lovely Janice Darmanin was sitting on a sofa with a group of children; the topic was food. So it was par for the course that she would ask them what their favourite food is. Qaqoċċ (globe artichokes) said the first child – and I heaved a sigh of relief… which was, alas, short-lived. For two of the children said they like to eat burgers (one of them, incongruously said that she likes them ‘with toast’), the rest said “chicken”, “meat”, and “lasagna”.
This does not say much for the eating habits of Maltese children. Whatever happened to raw vegetables or minestra? The first is the ultimate in fast food – the second takes a little more time, because you have to make more of an effort to dish it up – and of course there is no guarantee that the children will eat it, even if their Home Economics teacher says they ought to. Food is a bone of contention between many parents and their children. Even if children are hungry, they could easily decide to throw a wobbly because their prospective lunch is not something they “actually” like.
And this, of course, is just another power game, which a parent loses the minute she says jaħassra ma kiel xejn and takes out the oven chips. And then, of course, there are the grand-parents. If a child expresses a liking for tomatoes, and green peppers, and celery sticks filled with ricotta and dotted with vine fruit (“ants on a log”) – then eyes are tolled and dire pronouncements about what constitutes “real food” will sabotage the parents’ efforts to feed children nutritious food as opposed to stuffing them with sugar-laden cereals, when no cooked food is available. My Jewish friends are bound by kosher laws just as my Muslim friends are bound by halal rules.
Some children have food intolerances or allergies – others have decided to become vegetarians or vegans. However, I have heard people say that all of the above, religious restrictions included, are “silly regulations”. This does not say much for tolerance, and a move away from prejudice, does it?
I wonder what these people would say about peoples who consider fried crickets and mealy grub pies to be gourmet delicacies! One of those silly riddle-jokes asks what could be worse than finding a worm in an apple. The answer is obvious – half a worm. However, there is at least one more person who would gainsay me now than there used to be before July 30. On that day, the Australian press reported how Theo Rosmulder, 52, having been lost in The Outback, foraged for termites and other insects for food.
He survived for four days – until members of a local Aborigine tribe chanced by on a hunting trip, and saved him. Bush tucker, such as Witjuti grubs, has of course been a staple food since time immemorial. This adventure started when, together with a group of people that included his wife, Rosmulder was prospecting for gold about 80 miles north of Laverton. At one point he became separated from the group and lost his bearings, although as it turned out, he was only six miles away from the main camp.
Eating insects, however, is not something that is done solely when one is in dire straits as a means of survival. Aficionados of genuine Japanese food (rather than the plasticised instant versions that parade as such) know full well that authentic menus include such fare Hachi-no-ko (boiled wasp larvae); Zaza-mushi (aquatic insect larvae); Inago (fried rice-field grasshopper); Semi-fried cicada (Japanese Beetles); Sangi (fried silk moth pupae), and more. To many different peoples, entomophagy (eating insects) is not in the least different from eating any other creature – after all, many cultures, including ours, consider roe, frogs, tripe, land snails and sea-urchins to be delicacies – whereas they are considered inedible in other cuisines. Insects are a prime source of animal protein, just as fish, flesh and fowl are, to those of us who eat them.
We all know that John the Baptist listed grasshoppers on his menu, and indeed, when ground, these insects make very nutritious flour. I am told that although insects are not kosher, there are seven types of grasshoppers that Jews may eat – but I do not know whether this information is accurate. Eating insects the ‘in’ (!) thing to do, according to economists and environmentalists, if one wants to stop taxing the earth’s resources to the limit. Some say it is even better for the environment than going on a raw food diet. Insects are prolific, and easily obtainable.
There are no veterinarian’s bills, and they don’t need much room if you are going to farm them yourself. They do not smell; there’s no manure to speak of for disposal, and have the optimum feed-to-meat ratio of all living creatures, except perhaps limpets, whelks and sea-urchins, which you can get for free from the shores and the sea. Just for the record, there are 1,462 recorded species of edible insects, and undoubtedly others that are eaten by someone, somewhere, but are not known to the person who compiled this statistic!
Ground beef contains 23.5g of protein per 100g. However, it also has 21.2g of fat and 288.2 calories. By comparison, 100g of cicada, grasshopper and cricket contain 121 calories, 12.9 grams of protein, 5.5 g. of fat, 5.1 g. of carbohydrates, 75.8 mg. calcium, 185.3 mg. of phosphorous, 9.5 mg. of iron, 0.36 mg. of thiamine, 1.09 mg. of riboflavin, and 3.10 mg. of niacin. John the Baptist must have been something of a gourmand, as well as nutritionist.
As could have been expected, there are people who seen hopping on this bandwagon as the occasion to make oodles of boodle; they have converted insect eating into a novelty market.
Apart from the “normal” baked giant scorpions and fried crickets and worms, one may also mail-order a selection of the following:
Bacon and cheddar cheese-flavoured crickets;
BBQ-flavoured or tom yum-flavoured bamboo worms;
Butterflies in boiled sugar sweets;
Canned brown curry-flavoured mole crickets;
Canned soy sauce-flavoured pregnant crickets;
Cheddar cheese-flavoured worms;
Chocolate-covered crickets, giant ants and scorpions;
Fried giant ants; Mexican spice-flavoured worms;
Preserved crickets, and black scorpions in brine;
Preserved weaver ant eggs;
Roasted bamboo worms, giant centipedes, meal worms, pregnant crickets, silk worms, scorpions and weaver ants;
Salt and vinegar-flavoured crickets;
Scorpions in amber candy, or toffee, and in vodka;
Smokey BBQ canned scorpions;
Sour cream and onion-flavoured crickets;
Spicy giant bug paste;
Sun-dried Emperor Moth caterpillars.
I’d rather wake up and smell the coffee!