Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Guest Post: Edible Insects

by Almo Gregor

Almo Gregor is a firearm enthusiast and avid hunter. Outdoors activities like hunting and shooting were a big part of his childhood, and he continues with these traditions in his personal and professional life, passing the knowledge to others. Almo is also an editor for Outdoor Empire.

You may notice when watching survival shows or reading survival articles that there is a huge focus on food. Some are for entertainment purposes; it is more engaging to watch a person hunt a wild pig with a spear than to watch them find a clean water source. However, some of that focus is legitimate because when your body goes too long without food, it starts to eat itself as an energy supply.

This starts with the fat reserves and moves on to muscle mass. Within a few days, you start feeling weak and clumsy. Then the body starts attacking organ tissue, including brain matter. Your body starts to hurt all over, you become confused, and memory loss is quite common. All of these side effects of hunger can greatly diminish your ability to survive. When you cannot remember how to find your way back to camp, or you decide to take your chances on eating a poisonous plant, the results can mean death.

So what's the most efficient way of getting food?
  • Hunting burns a lot of calories, can be dangerous, and has very low rates of success. 
  • Trapping allows you to set a trap line and just spend a few minutes each day checking that line. The odds of success are not huge, but at least you are not spending all day tromping through the woods.
  • Fishing is often a good option for collecting protein, but it can mean getting into the water and that is not a risk I will take in many environments. 
  • That leaves gathering, which has always been primitive man's preferred method of finding food. 
The toughest part about gathering food is finding the nutrients that your body needs the most. With some basic knowledge of plants in your area, you can find plenty of leafy greens, root veggies, nuts, and berries to fill your belly. The problem is finding the proteins and fats that your body needs to survive. Most plants found in the wild have very small amounts of calories, protein, and fats. Foods like fruit, berries, and nuts can help offset this, but most people need a larger source of protein.

Insects can be the answer.

Introduction to Eating Insects
While this idea takes a period of adjustment for some people, keep in mind that most of the earth’s population eats insects. Insects are seen on every continent including Antarctica. It is estimated that there are three billion insects for every one person on our planet, so they are a food source that cannot be ignored. There are roughly thirty million species of insects that have been classified, and roughly 1900 of those can be eaten by humans.

During my last survival challenge, I brought two of my nephews (Jay and Dre) with me. They are 10 and 11 years old, and are a bit more open minded than most of the adults that I know. I wanted to give them exposure to different food sources while in the wilderness, so I brought along pemmican and hard tack so they could try some preserved survival foods. We caught a small bass in our gill net and we found a small turtle, so we already had some protein.

But I wanted them to become open to gathering as well. I found a few large black ants and popped them in my mouth. The boys seemed disgusted, but I explained that this variety of ant tasted a bit like Sweet Tarts candy. Jay was eager to try them out and agreed with me, on the taste but Dre was more hesitant. I finally got them both eating insects and felt like we were making progress.

General Rules
When you decide to start trying out some insects, be aware that there are general rules for which ones are safe. You should always know the specific insects found in your area, as the species found can vary greatly from one area to another. However, following these rules in any environment can help keep you from getting sick.

Avoid Bright Colors
Bright colors on an insect such as red, orange, yellow, and blue are a warning. These colors are there to stand out in nature and warn animals that they are off limits. Eating insects with these colors is a good way to ingest toxins that can make you sick. Stick to insects that blend in with brown and green colors.

Avoid Fuzzy Insects
When you see lots of hairs or spines on an insect, they are often there to distribute toxins. They are also an obvious warning to other animals to stay away.

Avoid Foul Smells
You may not realize it, but your sense of smell is designed to keep you from getting sick. As with most cases in nature, it is a good idea to avoid anything that has a foul smell, as this usually indicates bacteria or toxins of some kind. Do not eat any insect that has a foul smell.

Avoid Flies and Mosquitoes
Any insects that spend time around stagnant water or feces should be avoided. Insects like flies and mosquitoes carry diseases that can kill a human, so avoid them at all costs.

Avoid Slow-moving Insects in the Open
If an insect is hiding or flies away as soon as you come close, they are probably safe to eat.
However, insects that are poisonous know that they are poisonous and do not have to flee. They can walk slowly wherever they want to go and know that most animals will stay away.

Remove Stingers
Bees, wasps, and even scorpions are okay to eat, but only after the stinger is removed.

Cook Your Insects
Cooking insects kills any bacteria or parasites that could make you sick, so if you have the ability, do so. Certain insects like grasshoppers can give you parasites if not gutted and cooked.

Soak Worms Before Eating
You can consume underground creatures such as grub worms and earth worms, but their digestive systems are full of dirt. Soak them in water overnight to purge their system before eating.

Specific Critters
There are certain edible insects and other critters that can be found in most of the world. Here are some that you are likely to find anywhere.

There are numerous species of ants, and all are edible. You can break open an ant hill, or shove a stick into the hill and eat the ants off the stick.  

Bees and Wasps
These are both edible if the stinger is removed. Many cultures roast adult bees, and their larvae are delicious.

Butterflies and Moths
They can be eaten as adults or as caterpillars - but avoid caterpillars that are red, yellow, or orange!

They have a nasty bite when alive, so cooked is better. They can get to be very large and are eaten as street food in China. Remove the head before eating.

Make sure you know the difference between centipedes and millipedes, because millipedes are poisonous.

They are not around every year, but on the years they hatch, they are best when still young and soft.

Contrary to popular belief, most roaches in nature are clean insects and are fine to eat... but avoid any found in urban settings.

There are companies which cook crickets, grinds them into flour, and makes energy bars out of them. Crickets are eaten all around the world, and are one of the most popular edible bugs.

Earthworms and Grubs
These are high in protein and iron.

June Bugs 
These have some size to them, and both the adults and larvae can be eaten.

I have seen these sold in roadside stands on the west coast. They are roasted and then tossed in spices to flavor them. I tried the BBQ ones; they were pretty good.

Pill Bugs 
These are also known as "Roly Polys" and are closely related to shrimp.

These can contain parasites, so pull off the head and the guts that come with it, as well as the wings and legs. Once cooked, they are a good source of protein and calcium.

Be careful catching these guys - some are deadly - but they are edible once you remove the stinger. 

It is common to find slugs in gardens. They carry parasites and also sometimes eat plants that are poisonous to humans, so they must be gutted and cooked.

Considered a delicacy in French cooking, they always seem to be cooked in white wine and butter.  I have eaten escargot on a few occasions, first trying them in Zurich, Switzerland, and have since ordered them whenever they are on the menu. They need to be gutted as well. 

Most people just eat the legs, but the whole spider is edible. They get to be very large so they can make a good meal. Be careful of their urticating hairs, so cook them before eating.

These are typically eaten raw. Like ants, you can break into a hill or you can put a stick in there and fish them out. Very high in protein.

In Conclusion
When you are literally starving and need calories and protein to keep going, do not forget about insects. However, I suggest you get over any apprehension before your life depends on it.

The next time you go hiking or camping, find some edible insects and cook them with your meal. Try to get your family involved, too! It will make life so much easier if you are ever in a situation when these critters become a primary food source.

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