Waiter, What’s This Maggot Doing in My Soup?

November 2, 2012 § 7 Comments

As a boy growing up in rural Missouri, I was very interested in insects and ended up with a rather sizable collection of mounted specimens that I took to the local 4-H fair. Later, when I became a 4-H leader to a younger friend nearby, I passed on what I’d learned. I remember once, after running out of ideas, spicing things up with a snack of deep-fried insects. As I recall, we ate grasshoppers, bees, and possibly cicadas. Little did I know that I could have been on the brink of a future career.

If you travel much outside the US and Europe, you run a good chance of running across insects served up as snacks or side dishes. But if people like China’s Li Jinsui have their way, edible insects will become a global main course.

As reported in Le Monde, Li runs an “insect factory,” which has as its focus the housefly—in particular, the immature housefly, or maggot. You can read the entire article here, but if you need some coaxing, let me whet your appetite with some quotations. Where else can you read such phrases as this?

China’s Maggot Factories Hoping to Feed the World (the headline)
Li says he can deliver about 150kg of maggots a day . . .
As he walks into a room filled with two million flies . . . , and
With the price of wasp larvae on the rise . . .

For Li, raising insects for human consumption isn’t just a novelty. He’s hoping to educate his countrymen, develop his business, and become “the industry’s world leader.” One obstacle that he has to overcome on the maggot front, though, is to figure out how to raise his flies on a diet of rice. That’s because housefly maggots typically feed on animal feces, which makes them unsuitable for human consumption.

Sounds like Li has a lot of educating and persuading to do.

But he’s not alone. There’s a whole movement devoted to “entomophagy,” or the eating of insects. It touts the health and environmental benefits of insect eating and presents it as an effective solution to the problem of feeding a rapidly growing world. For more information, check out these interesting sites:

Also, at NOVA’s “Bugs You Can Eat,” you can follow a couple American journalists, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, as they trek around the world trying a variety of insect and spider dishes. With a twist on the “tastes like chicken” meme, Menzel describes deep-fried tarantulas in Cambodia, saying,

If day-old deep-fried chickens had no bones, had hair instead of feathers, and were the size of a newborn sparrow, they might taste like tarantulas.

And finally, if you’re in the States and want to get your taste buds ready for the insect-eating future, go to HOTLIX to order some “larvets,” hand-dipped chocolate crickets, or other varieties of insect candy. Or go to Hollywood location scout Scott Trimble’s Entomophagy, inspired by “the seeming lack of a concise smartphone-friendly list of American restaurants that serve insect options on their menus.”

Who knows, maybe someday you’ll ask, “Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?” and his answer will be “Why, adding flavor, protein, and pizazz, of course!”

(Harold Thibault, “China’s Maggot Factories Hoping to Feed the World,”  Worldcrunch, October 1, 2012, translated from “Des Usines d’Insectes pour Nourrir les Chinois,” Le Monde, September 28, 2012;

[photo: "Fly larva," by Susannah Anderson, used under a Creative Commons license]

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