Tyrades! By Danny Tyree
When I was a six-year-old lad lusting over the “ant farm” advertisements in 12-cent comic books, I had no idea how ahead-of-their-time those ads were.
According to the April 10 “Newsweek,” entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and farmers are scrambling to cash in on using processed insects for food. Buoyed by a 2013 United Nations report and funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, they hope to reinvent Americans’ idea of desirable food sources and get a leg up (six legs up?) on the competition.
Companies are conducting expensive research in hopes of gaining GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) certification. To be fair, most of the things we blithely ingest have only ASNLF (Aw, Shucks, Nobody Lives Forever) certification.
Scientists still need to do exhaustive testing for allergens and toxins. But I’m more worried about the old “You are what you eat” adage. A steady diet of insects could certainly complicate couples counseling. (“Your wife says you don’t communicate anymore.” “How can I? My legs are so stiff I can’t rub them together!”)
No matter how safe or nutritious insects are proven to be, marketers will still have to overcome the “Yuk!” factor. When I asked one Harvard sociologist how he overcomes the “Yuk!” factor, he explained, “I just have a stiff drink, close my eyes, go eenie-meenie and pull the voting lever — oh, you mean the CREEPY CRAWLIE ‘Yuk!’ factor! Oh, that one’s easy!”
I know kids can do some gross things, but there may still be pushback if parents try to sell them on insect-based snacks. Father’s Day might see a bunch of “(Third) World’s Greatest Dad” mugs.
I’m sure Madison Avenue will come up with some really persuasive slogans for the new diet, like “Got exoskeleton?” and “Cricket flour, for biscuits that molt in your mouth.” Let’s not forget “Still a few bugs in the (digestive) system? Try Ex-Lax.”
But some of the “buzz words” of the advertising trade will fall flat. Touting something as “free-range dung beetles” is akin to putting lipstick on a pig.
It will be important to develop units of measure that are not distressing. People accustomed to an ounce of caviar or a pound of ground beef might not take to “a plague of locusts.”
I hope someone has considered the obstacles to using insects in school menus. Soon the real mystery of “mystery meat” will be “What will the ACLU tolerate?” If a cafeteria uses PRAYING MANTIS meat, it will at least have to alternate that provocative dish with Wiccan wasps and atheist aphids.
Yes, our reluctance to change is just a silly, irrational cultural thing. Insects would provide bountiful protein and iron, require less feed than mammals and not transmit viruses. But while we’ve learned not to think about our veal having recently been a calf, it’s unsettling to think that our steak also recently pollinated our salad.
Can the American diet really undergo such a metamorphosis? Will the clichÃ© one day be “Tastes just like chitin”?
A few years ago I would have expected my fellow “beans ‘n’ taters” southerners to resist dietary paradigm shifts to the death. But they’ve surprised me, welcoming (Americanized) Mexican and Chinese dishes. Insects just have to be presented properly. (“I don’t know about all those compound eyes and antennae and things…What? It comes with bottomless sweet tea and gravy? Super-size that maggot mush!”)
©2015 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”. Danny’s’ weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.