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Would you eat this dish? (PHOTO: Jose Alfredo Chavez)

Insect eating terrifies some, appeals to others

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It isn't easy for many Americans to stomach the thought of eating insects, but the practice is actually quite common around the world – particularly Mexico – and there are dozens of species that are a viable food source for millions of people.

Many Milwaukeeans, however, are not on board with bug eating.

There is not a local restaurant that serve insects, however, several grocery stores – including Rhino Foods, 7411 W. Hampton Ave. – sell canned crickets and larvae.

Also, numerous local Mexican grocery stores have bags of dried crickets sprinkled with an orange cheese powder that can be eaten as snacks like one might eat chips or nuts.

Jose Alfredo Chavez, owner of Cafe La Paloma, 606 S. 5th St., does NOT serve insects at his Walker's Point restaurant, but he does eat them.

"I like eating insects, but as far as serving them in the restaurant, I do not think people would be receptive to the idea," says Chavez.

Chavez, who is from Zacapu, Mexico, says people from that region also eat "barrel ants." This species of ants, according to Chavez, has an over-grown belly filled with a honey-like substance and their function is to feed the larvae and the queen.

"They are eaten alive and only the belly. It is like eating a live candy," he says.

Jumiles and chumiles, six-legged insects that live under rocks, are commonly consumed in Mexico, too. Jumiles are basically larger versions of chumiles and both are described as having a strong but slightly sweet flavor. They are eaten live or sometimes ground into salsa.

Traditionally, on the Monday after Day of the Dead (Nov. 1), citizens of Taxco, a Mexican city in the state of Guerrero, hunt together for jumiles. The children gather them in bags as "treats" and sometimes compete with one another as to who can fill their bags the fastest.

Although hard for some to fathom, there are multiple positive aspects to insect eating. Insects are plentiful for the most part and therefore are an abundant, renewable resource. For large groups of people, insects are a cheap, available and necessary food staple.

In some places, insects are consumed in such large amounts that certain species are on the brink of extinction.

Escamoles, made from ant larvae, is a native Central Mexican dish sometimes called "insect caviar" and considered a delicacy by some groups of people. The light-colored eggs resemble and are reported as tasting a little like pine nuts. Escamoles are often served in tacos and omelets.

Cricket consumption is particularly popular in Oaxaca, Mexico. Chapulines are fried crickets and, like many insect meals or snacks, offer a lot of protein and nutrients.

Crickets can be pan fried with garlic, salt, lime juice and / or chili powder. They are also, like ants, sometimes a chocolate-covered dessert item.

Smaller crickets are considered to be more of a delicacy than larger ones, presumably because they are more difficult to catch. Most people agree insect eating is either something one is raised doing or it's definitely an acquired taste and practice.

In general, Americans' tolerance of bugs is much lower than those who live in other parts of the world. We are faster to call an exterminator, unwilling to live with head lice and many of us are too squeamish to eat insects.

Matt Gomez was born in Mexico and moved to Milwaukee as a little boy. Although he sees his older family members sometimes sprinkle crickets on their tortillas along with other items like chopped tomato and black beans, he does not have any interest.

"I think, mostly, it has to do with where you were raised. In America, people will eat raw fish, but not insects," says Gomez.

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