Daniella Martin's life revolves around bugs. She eats bugs, raises bugs, writes about bugs for the Huffington Post, and just released Edible -- a book dedicated to the benefits of bug consumption -- in February. She also inspired an episode of The Simpsons, regularly blogs about bug-eating adventures on her website Girl Meets Bug, and has filmed two short episodes of a bug-centered cooking show under the same name, featuring deep fried scorpions and wax worm tacos.
When Hot Dish met up with Daniella Martin at her Linden Hills home last weekend, she went over the menu and introduced us to her pets, an unnamed tarantula and a tailless whip scorpion named Freddy, whom Martin placed on her cheek. For the interview, Martin prepared three varieties of bugs in three separate dishes, including wild rice with crispy crickets; slaw with toasted mealworms; and Honeycrisp apple with cheese and larvae. The meal, which will be thoroughly covered in this week's "Plate or Pass," was delicious.
As Daniella baked crickets and carefully organized mealworms atop a purple cabbage slaw, we grilled her about the benefits of bug eating, the ethics of bug slaughter, and the best places to purchase bugs for snacking.
Hot Dish: Tell us a little bit about your background. What did you study in school?
Daniella Martin: This is actually what I studied in college. My degree is in cultural anthropology, and I was studying approaches to cuisine and medicine in Mexico. Particularly, my degree is in pre-Columbian native cuisine of the Maya and Aztecs. I spent a semester abroad in the Yucatan in Mexico trying to observe what aspects of early native Mayan and Aztec life had survived to the present day because Columbus came in and really changed their culture. It turns out that eating insects is practiced today in Mexico much in the same way it was hundreds of years ago. It hasn't changed that much. I thought that was such a fascinating thing. I had never heard of anyone eating insects.
What school did you go to?
I went to Marlboro. Nobody has heard of Marlboro. They all think I'm making it up.
So I graduated in '02 and in 2008 I read a Time magazine article about how insects are being considered the new green, eco-friendly food source and one of the potential partial solutions to world hunger. So in that moment I was like, oh this totally weird thing I've always been interested in actually has a practical application which is super interesting. So that year, I started purchasing a bunch of textbooks on the topic and I started my Girl Meets Bug blog and I thought, you know this is such a super fascinating idea and it makes so much sense -- how can I help?
We hear you inspired an episode of The Simpsons?
I did. I was doing a bug-b-q in Los Angeles in 2010 and the idea was we were going to be serving bbq-ed bugs. So we made shish kabobs (shish kabugs) with crickets and scorpions and meal worms and silk worms, I think. A Simpsons writer happened to attend and he thought it was really an interesting topic and we ended up talking about why I was doing it. Two years later, the Simpsons episode came out, and I wrote to Dan [Greaney] and said, "Oh my god, this is so amazing. I had no idea this was becoming so topical." And he said, "Well, I wrote a storyline about you and this is what they did."
Where do you get your bugs?
Typically I get them from farms. There's quite a few that sell live insect feeder bugs for reptiles and birds. They're perfectly good eating. There's a few farms that I prefer over others, just because they're more transparent about what they feed the bugs themselves, but honestly at this point my colleagues and I have noticed that there's no real noticeable difference, not something that you guys would notice. So it really doesn't matter. I mean, ideally, if I were advising somebody else, the right thing to do is buy them from a reputable farm... but honestly, you know, I'll go to the pet store. You're cooking them. They're not putting anything poisonous in there.
So then you bring them home live...
And then you freeze them. This is the killing chamber. [Points to freezer.]
Do you feel bad?
I do feel bad, and I think that is part of the cycle of life and eating that most people don't encounter. I'm not a vegetarian, but it definitely opened my eyes to the value of meat and what it means to eat an animal. I actually think that having killed thousands of bugs at this point has made me much more aware of that and much more appreciative of life, oddly enough. You wouldn't think that would have been the result, but that has been the result. Though, killing big tarantulas, that's really hard for me now.
Do you just do the same thing with sticking them in the freezer?
Yeah, that's what I do. I put them in the freezer, but places like Cambodia where they don't have much access to freezers, they kill them by hand. They take the main body of the tarantula, and just use their thumbs while the tarantula is still alive.
What happens after your freeze the bugs?
I bought [my bugs] a couple days ago and froze them and the only thing I've done to them is rinsed them off. The only reason I do that is because who knows what sort of substrates they've been in. Mealworms frequently come in woodcarvings, saw dust, that kind of thing. If you're raising them at home, you're raising them in a substrate, and that's basically bedding, of oats or some kind of flour that they can eat while they're growing -- then it's actually better to not rinse them off.
Do you ever just pop them in your mouth frozen?
No, for a couple of reasons. Number one, because it wouldn't taste very good. It would be like eating raw shrimp. You wouldn't really pop that in your mouth because it's going to taste better when you sauté it or bake it or whatever you're gonna do with it. The other reason is that we can't know for sure what's in these since they weren't technically raised for human consumption, so the wisest thing to do is to cook them.
People tend to think of insects as being disease carriers and disease spreaders. This is a broad misconception. The diseases that insects tend to carry and spread are human diseases only... as you can see, they are so biologically and anatomically different from us. They're nothing like humans, so things like swine flu, avian flu, mad cow disease -- there is no insect equivalent of these. They can occasionally pick up parasites, but the likelihood that these have any parasites is incredibly low because they've been raised in controlled conditions. But just in case, you want to cook them, just like you would a fish that you catch.