When I'm not photographing people or weddings or food, I teach first grade. Six and seven year-olds are remarkable in so many ways, but perhaps my favorite is that they dive head-first into learning. As long as you, the adult, can muster enough enthusiasm for the subject, they will want to learn all they can.
So that brings us to the insects. I happen to think insects are fascinating, so it's easy for me to bring the appropriate amount of excitement to science class each day. The children learn about the three body segments of insects, and observe as mealworms, wax worms, and painted lady caterpillars go through their life cycles in our classroom. A highlight of this study is undoubtedly the first day the kids get their mealworms.
They give them names like "Squirmy," "Wormy," and "Garrett."
They let them crawl all over their hands and coo as if they were holding baby birds.
It is truly fantastic.
But eating insects? I wasn't sure if all the enthusiasm I could muster would convince every child to give it a try.
It helped that the crickets and mealworms were dusted with familiar potato chip flavors. The facial expressions of the students as they contemplated their decisions, and then of their slow-motion first tastes, were a feast for the eyes.
Our first grade insect unit is rich, to be sure. Students complete symmetrical butterfly paintings, perform research in books and on iPads and laptops, keep science notebooks of all their observations, and more. But we'd never eaten insects before.
The obvious connection here is that cultures in developed countries all over the world use insects as a rich source of nutrition. Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Thailand, Japan, Ghana and more feature insects on local menus. Grasshoppers, for example, have nearly as much protein per gram as beef, and less fat per gram. They are also more efficient to produce (less food and more product) than more traditional sources of animal protein by as much as 90%.
But getting people to make the switch? Just ask this little guy to give up his scrambled eggs for some stir-fried locusts.
US-based Entom Foods is working to manufacture "palatable insect meat by using High Pressure Processing technology to remove the exterior of the insect" like its exoskeleton and wings. And a few intrepid souls in the food industry in The Netherlands have been at it since 2011.
Will insects be a popular source of nutrition and protein in my lifetime? Or in the lifetimes of my students? Who knows? All we can do is continue to make exploration as exciting as possible for our kids.