The current point of contention in American politics is whether eating dog or strapping one to the roof of your car is worse. Good thing our economy is doing so well that we can concentrate on the things that really matter. Mitt for Brains is the strapee, not realizing when his wife mentioned using a strap on she wasn’t talking about the dog. And President Obama is the one being attacked for eating dog meat as a child in Indonesia. Granted, puppy is not a staple on American dinner tables. But other countries have a more realistic opinion of meat sources, and Fido becomes a ready food option when you are starving.
I can understand how a multi-billionaire whose stay at home mom wife has to attempt to keep the dozen of houses they own straight might look down on someone less fortunate who had to make do with dog for dinner, but that doesn’t exactly endear him to the masses. And you’d think since he has a problem with being endeared by his own party members he might be a bit more circumspect in trying to find favor with the undecided. But ‘out of touch’ seems to be the one issue Mitt doesn’t flip flop on. Of course if he really wanted to attack the President for his culinary choices as a child he should have gone with the bugs. ‘Cuz all Americans will agree that eating insects is just plain gross.
That our opinion of crunchy critters is not shared in other parts of the world quickly becomes apparent when you visit most countries in SE Asia. Not to mention the rest of Asia and most of South America too. The consumption of insects, or entomophagy, has been around for thousands of years. It is estimated that more than half the people of the world eat a variety of flying, crawling, and biting bugs. And that might include Republicans too. But don’t tell Mitt, that’s a photo op we really don’t need to see.
Bugs are definitely on the menu in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. And it’s not just the poor – who have no choice in the matter – who like to chow down on bugs. The perimeter of the Weekend Market in Bangkok is filled with food carts offering the very finest in insect snacks. And the lines of locals waiting to buy a bagful should tip you off that to Thais, at least, bugs are good for you. Visiting Americans might try one for the ewwww factor and a gross photo op. But back home? No way. We’d never eat bugs. At least not those that haven’t been approved by our government for human consumption.
The United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition details acceptable levels of food contamination from sources such as maggots, thrips, insect fragments, ‘foreign matter’, maggots, mold, rodent hairs, and insect and mammalian feces in its publication The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans. It’s the government’s go-to manual on how many bugs you can include in your food product. And it’s a lot. Lisa Monachelli, director of youth and family programs at New Canaan Nature Center in Connecticut says, “It’s estimated that the average American eats one pound of insects each year unintentionally.”
Canned mushrooms, for example, may have “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or an “average of 75 mites” before provoking action by the FDA. And if you feel the need to spice up your dish of ‘shrooms, curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams; and 80 or more insect fragments per 10 grams of ground cinnamon is cool with our government. So next time you order a mocha latte frappe grande whatever whatever from Starbucks, with cinnamon on top, know that along with way too many calories you’re also getting your daily dose of bugs.
But then if you tried to play it safe, passed on the cinnamon topped drinks at Starbucks, and ordered a Strawberry Frappuccino instead, thanks to the company’s attempt to go green that red coloring used in your brew is from cochineal beetles, a commonly used natural food coloring; the small, scaled bugs are listed as cochineal extract on ingredient lists. Starbucks switched from artificial dyes to bugs in January when it aggressively moved away from the use of any artificial ingredients in its food and drinks. Now, several months later they’ve made a switch again thanks to an uprising over their addition of insects to their menu. But it wasn’t the grossness of serving up bugs that caused the PR nightmare. Nope, instead it was thanks to PETA who objected to the use of bugs on behalf of the vegans of the world. That almost makes you want to cry in your beer. Unless you are aware that just 10 grams of hops could have as many as 2,500 aphids in it.
Starbucks is moving to a tomato-based extract to put the red in its Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie. So no more cochineal beetles to go with your morning caffeine fix. But that may mean a protein upgrade: maggots abound in tomato-based foods like canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and pizza sauces. Which makes the 30 fly eggs in each 100 grams of tomato sauce hardly worth mentioning. Besides, no Starbucks drink worth its salt (you don’t want to know) fails to include a healthy does of chocolate, which can have up to 60 insect fragments per 100 grams and still be in compliance with FDA regulations.
You may pass on the crap they sell as coffee at Starbucks, and limit your chocolate intake too, not just to avoid eating insects but out of a concern for healthy eating. And what could be more healthy than vegetables? Frozen or canned asparagus, frozen broccoli, and frozen Brussels sprouts all are packing tiny little winged parasites called thrips. And spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts all have aphids in them too. That frozen spinach is also loaded with caterpillar larvae and larval fragments. And now you know what was giving Popeye all that strength. And why he got all hard over that bug eyed bitch Olive Oil.
Oh, and fruit? Buy a can of citrus juice, and you’ll be swilling five fruit flies with every 8 ounce cup of juice. Grab an 8 ounce handful of raisins and you could be eating as many as 35 fruit-fly eggs. And larvae and/or larval fragments whose aggregate length exceeds 5 mm are allowed in every 12 pounds of canned or frozen peaches.
Eating bugs may not sound as gross as chowing down on doggie, and certainly doesn’t sound as bad as eating pink slime (rejected fat, sinew, bloody effluvia, and occasional bits of meat cut from carcasses in the slaughterhouse) an industry and food product which the country’s leading Republicans are all firmly behind. But then since a mere 10 years ago pink slime was considered only fit for dog food, maybe the idea of eating dog isn’t all that gross after all. And as for eating bugs, don’t be surprised when the next time you are dining out and you complain, “Waiter there’s a fly in my soup!” that it’s a non-event.
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