David George Gordon creates recipes that might bug some people out—scorpion scaloppini, three-bee salad, and “Pest-O,” a take on the popular Italian sauce using dried and pulverized weevils. Gordon, who travels the world as “The Bug Chef” doing cooking demonstrations, developed the dishes for his 1998 hit The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.
Gordon says he has always been interested in learning and sharing information about the less-popular organisms in the natural world. Before compiling the cookbook, he wrote insect-themed books such as The Compleat Cockroach, a 178-page book about the frequently despised insect.
“It’s actually the underdogs that have fascinated me,” he says. “Things like cockroaches, slugs, and snails are more fascinating than whales and dolphins, which everybody knows are wonderful.”
Gordon turned from research to recipes after attending a Seattle, Washington, insect fair in 1995. There, he tasted Chex Mix—with crickets in it. “The crickets themselves actually have a very mild, shrimp-like flavor,” he says. “And they also have a nutty flavor as well. So they actually were quite good, particularly mixed in with these other things and seasoned.”
Inspired, Gordon set about gathering recipes in an unorthodox fashion. “I kind of made up a long list of 30 names for dishes that would be in the book,” he says. “Some of them were bad puns. For example, ‘Pest-O’ is one of the recipes in there. I didn’t really have the recipe worked out yet. I just thought it sounded great.”
While researching the recipes, Gordon learned that people in most parts of the world eat insects. The cultures of Europe, and the regions they colonized, are the exception. People in the Middle East dine on locusts, while Cambodians deep-fry spiders. Africans and South Americans harvest a seemingly endless supply of ants and termites for food.
Gordon says he looked into how cultures around the world cooked insects. “A lot of them started out as indigenous cuisine,” he says. “People in other parts of the world eat dragonflies, and in Indonesia, they call that dish ‘sky prawns.’”
One of Gordon’s recipes, which will appear in an updated version of his cookbook, is tempura-battered tarantula. “I go through this whole procedure where I singe off all the body hairs, and I remove the abdomen,” he says. “I batter this thing and deep fry it. When it comes out, it’s actually really tasty.”
Gordon’s signature dish is Orthopteran Orzo, a pasta with sautéed crickets and more conventional ingredients like red peppers, onions, and garlic. “I’ve actually had people come back for seconds and thirds of that dish,” he says. “One time, I had a kid come back for fifths.”
But Gordon’s favorite insect to ingest is waxworms, the caterpillar larvae of wax moths. “The waxworms get their name because as caterpillars they actually eat the wax from the honeycomb of a beehive,” he says. “So here are these little critters that are about half an inch long—little white caterpillars—and in their short lives they are eating wax and honey. What’s not to like about that?”
Spreading the Word
Once it was released, the cookbook put Gordon in the spotlight. “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook came out in 1998, and it was an immediate hit,” Gordon says. “I was on [Late Night with] Conan O’Brien and The View and a lot of TV shows doing my cooking demonstrations.”
Thirteen years later, Gordon still does cooking demonstrations at events such as the Houston Zoo’s Bug Brunch and BuzzFest at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, New York.
Though dining on items like Gordon’s waxworm-filled Alpha-Bait Soup might not be everyone’s dish, he says most insects are packed with nutrition.
“They say that pound for pound, dried grasshoppers are close in protein value to ground beef, and they have way less fat,” he says. “They are probably better for you. A lot of insects are really rich in vitamins and minerals. Crickets, for example, are very rich in calcium. Termites, believe it or not, are very rich in iron.”
Gordon says that collecting bugs for food is an environmentally sound way to supplement the items that we already eat. “If people went out and handpicked insects instead of spraying the crops with chemicals, you would actually get two crops from the same acre of land,” he says.
Like any other resource, insects should be harvested wisely. “If everyone went out and started eating insects, we’d cause trouble,” Gordon says. “It would be basically the same as overfishing the oceans. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that people need to put their own energy into growing their own insects. Raising them in farms, not just harvesting them from the wild.”
Shopping for Crickets
Wondering where to get the orthopterans for Orthopteran Orzo? Try your local pet store. Crickets and grasshoppers are frequently stocked as food for reptiles and amphibians.
Just place the live crickets in a freezer and they will slowly cool down, their metabolism will lower until they are asleep, and they will then die from the cold.
Many online stores sell live and freeze-dried crickets.
Cooking Up an Education
David George Gordon explains why he writes unconventional science books like The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook. I dont really want to just give somebody a book about insects and say read this, he says, because they wont. I want to find an unusual way to get the information across.
one of three major parts of an insect's body (along with the head and thorax), and the part which contains the digestive and reproductive organs.
flesh of a cow used for food.
structure where bees live and raise their young.
chemical element with the symbol Ca.
larva of a butterfly or moth.
molecular properties of a substance.
to establish control of a foreign land and culture.
to put together.
expected or having to do with accepted standards or principles.
a style of cooking.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
insect that preys on mosquitoes and other insects.
unusual occurrence that doesn't follow the general procedures or associations.
to cause an interest in.
material found in organisms that is colorless and odorless and may be solid or liquid at room temperature.
material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.
the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.
sweet substance produced by bees from pollen or nectar.
wax structure built by bees to hold honey and larvae.
characteristic to or of a specific place.
to take material, such as food or medicine, into a body.
type of animal that breathes air and has a body divided into three segments, with six legs and usually wings.
chemical element with the symbol Fe.
a new or immature insect or other type of invertebrate.
type of small grasshopper that often travels in huge swarms. Also called the short-horned grasshopper.
region of southwest Asia and northeast Africa.
nutrient needed to help cells, organs, and tissues to function.
process by which living organisms obtain food or nutrients, and use it for growth.
large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.
order of insects with leathery front wings and mouths that can chew, including crickets and grasshoppers.
pasta in the shape of small, rice-shaped pellets.
to harvest aquatic life to the point where species become rare in the area.
dough rolled or made into shapes and then boiled.
marine animal (crustacean) similar to shrimp, often harvested for food.
method or steps followed to achieve a goal.
one of many complex compounds, made of chains of amino acids, that make up the majority of all cellular structures and are necessary for biological processes.
to crush and make into dust or powder.
wordplay, or use of double-meanings of a word or phrase.
set of instructions for preparing a specific dish of food.
any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.
to cook an ingredient in a pan or pot in a small amount of oil or fat.
dish made of slices of meat in a rich sauce.
apparently or seeming to be.
to burn lightly.
to increase or add to.
large, hairy spider native to North America.
Japanese dish of battered and deep-fried food.
individual or group expected to lose a confrontation.
not conventional or accepted.
chemical substance that is necessary for health.
chemical compound, produced either naturally by plants or animals or artificially by industry, that is plastic (bendable) and will not dissolve in water.
type of insect whose larvae live in the hives of bees or wasps. Also called a bee moth.
type of insect (beetle) with a long snout that is often destructive to crops. Also called a snout beetle.