If you're really going to follow a paleo diet, you ought to be eating bugs, "lots and lots of bugs," Daniella Martin argues in "Edible." The diet, after all, suggests we should eat more like early hunter-gatherers did, and what could be easier to hunt and gather than bugs? (Martin uses the term "bugs" interchangeably with "insects" to refer to "terrestrial invertebrates.") The creatures are packed with protein and other nutrients. In some non-Western cultures they are considered a staple; in others, a delicacy.
If we're willing to eat cows, why not crickets? It's just a matter of acclimation, Martin argues, using herself as an example. "I am a cautious person . . . and gastrointestinally sensitive. I'm allergic to alcohol and lactose-intolerant, and breakfast cereal has been known to give me a stomachache." Yet, one bite of a homemade wax-moth taco and Martin is converted into a culinary swashbuckler: "Delicious! Nutty, savory, earthy," she writes of her creation. Who needs to worry about a bowl of Rice Krispies when you can nibble on foods that get their crackle and pop from leg joints and carapaces?
In her breezy book, Martin, who also blogs about and makes videos on entomophagy (bug eating), writes not only of her personal metamorphosis but also on the history and science of the practice. The book also has a thorough appendix about insect types and which ones to avoid eating (hint: the brightly colored ones), how to farm your own (you can also order them online) and, of course, a recipe for that transformative taco — as well as other delectable vittles such as the Circle of Life Canapé, an hors d'oeuvre that features a "fig-chevre mound" topped with a sauteed grasshopper.
Martin is not the only one touting the benefits of insect-eating these days. And the argument for expanding the Western culinary appetite to include animals you might normally stomp on goes beyond personal health. Last year, the United Nations published a paper arguing that entomophagy was a vital way to help feed a growing world population in an environmentally sound way. Producing insects for consumption, for example, leaves a smaller carbon footprint than raising cattle.
The authors of "The Insect Cookbook" use the U.N. report as a springboard to their thought-provoking compendium of recipes. The beautifully photographed book opens with an endorsement of entomophagy from no less than former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, who suggests feeding some of the dishes to politicians. If they like them, they can become the cuisine's "best ambassadors," he says. "They will proudly go around and say, 'I ate crickets, I ate locusts, and they were delicious.' They will use this to show how courageous and adventurous, and what leaders they are." Indeed, sampling a bowl of nutty mealworms, a plate of "bugitos" or a bite of "buglava" may be the most efficient test of a leader's mettle — not to mention his or her stomach.