Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


How to Build the Perfect Woman
by Timothy Mudie

Sound of Chartreuse
by Nancy S.M. Waldman

Finding New Roads
by Allen Demir

Smart Home Blues
by Mark Ayling

Drone Dreams
by Hayden Trenholm

Game Changer
by Iain Ishbel

Safe Bet to Appelane
by Derrick Boden

Aquilonia, My Zelky
by Barton Paul Levenson

Shorter Stories

Princess Zenla and the Encyclopedia on Mars
by George S. Walker

See No Evil
by K.S. O’Neill

QSFT7mk2.7853 Has a Name
by Kurt Hunt


God From the Machine
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

And Bugs on the Menu
by Carol Kean



Comic Strips





And Bugs on the Menu

By Carol Kean

NOBODY LIKES ME, EVERYBODY hates me, think I’ll go eat worms?

Good idea. You’ll feel better, and not just because “Eat bugs, save the world!” is the Next Big Thing. Chocolate covered ants or batter-fried tarantulas may be the comfort food you need. Protein bars made of crickets could make you lean and mean (just not as quickly as Popeye’s spinach) if you need to fight off a bully.

Entomorphagy (eating insects) is nothing new. Humans have consumed insects, the most abundant life form besides bacteria, for as long as humans have existed. Bugs and worms have nourished (why do I hate that word along with “moist” and “meals”?) indigenous people all over the world. European governments have started promoting entomorphagy, but Americans are squeamish to the point of being irrational, prejudiced, or phobic.

“It’s not easy for most Americans to see this, but insects are going to be a far bigger part of our menus in the next 25 years,” according to Josh Schonwald, author of “The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food.”

I’m not a vegan or a PETA protester, nor do I trust the World Health Organization’s latest reports on red meat causing cancer. It just strikes me as weird that most Americans would rather eat a sentient, big-eyed furry or feathered friend—pig, cow, rabbit, pheasant, even a beady-eyed barnyard chicken—than the far less attractive or companionable bug.

Crickets are cute (unless they’re chirping in your house), and I like spiders and snakes, but never formed any emotional attachment to one. Growing up on a farm, we named all our critters and they had distinct personalities. The “Ha-Ha Rooster” chased us and terrorized us, so I didn’t mind holding his legs at the chopping block when Mom whacked off his head, but my heart ached when Johnny Boar leaped from the chute (how many pigs can do that?) in his futile attempt to escape his trip to the market. Unlike cat-eating Koreans or horse-eating Frenchmen, we have taboos against eating our feline, equine, and canine friends, but none against eating the gentle bovine. One farmwife, however, told me she’d “almost rather eat a person I don’t know than eat one of our lambs.” No doubt she’d rather eat mutton, hers or anyone else’s, than a casserole full of worms.

The average American’s consumption of meat is a historical phenomenon. While the average 17th century European was lucky to see meat once a week, even an impoverished American consumed two hundred pounds a year—and this was long before the Revolution of 1776. Land grabs, ranches, cattle drives, stock yards, meat factories, railroads—a whole new industry, generated by America’s demand for meat—formed the U.S. economy. European settlers transformed the New World into the biggest meat-producing place on Earth.

Conventional livestock is simply not a sustainable food source. Cattle produce more greenhouse gases than the entire transport sector. The amount of water to produce one pound of steak equals that consumed by a family of four for a full year. While bacon, ham, hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks have a forever place in our hearts—er, appetites—there isn’t enough of the “good” stuff to go around. Hunger is a problem here in the U.S., not just in famine-plagued Ethiopia. Protein builds stronger children, workers, and warriors, and it doesn’t have to come from Bessie the cow or pigs like Babe.

Again: you won’t hear me urging people to give up meat. You can see a “Cowspiracy” video and judge for yourself. As a farm-raised carnivore, I tend to side with Maureen Ogle, author of “In Meat We Trust,” who tweeted October 26: “This WHO meat thing is the Mother of All Clickbait.”

My spinster aunt who labored forty years at a meat packing plant refused to tell us what really goes into hot dogs. Americans still don’t know, or don’t want to know, if bugs or worms get cooked in with the guts and other body parts of pigs, cows, and chickens. What are we so afraid of? I’d say it’s the nitrites, nitrates and MSG, more so than the meat source, we should worry about.

“McDonald’s Uses Worm Meat Fillers But Can Legally Call It 100 Percent Beef” is a meme perpetuated on Pinterest and all the social media, but refutes the rumor. Why were so many scandalized by it in the first place? In 2012, meat product critics terrorized Americans with activist rebranding, calling lean, finely textured beef “pink slime.” Millions had eaten it and liked it until they knew what was in the food they chewed and swallowed. They should care about truth in labeling too.

Cash Crawlies

They may be tiny, ugly, creepy, or crawly, but eating more bug and worms, and less poultry, beef, pork and fish, is good for you and even better for the environment. We already use three-fourths of all agricultural land to raise livestock. The oceans are overfished. Disease (and insects!) threaten crop production. It’s all in a book released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Edible Insects: future prospects for food and feed security,” May 13, 2013.

“Gathering, rearing, processing and selling insects can offer important livelihood opportunities for poor individuals living in developing countries,” FAO reports. “Not only will these activities improve their diets, but they can also offer employment and generate cash income through the sale of the produce. It also doesn’t require a lot of experience or sophisticated equipment, meaning many individuals can participate in these activities, including women and those living in rural or urban areas that are lacking in available land.”

No matter how stupendous the American meat industry may be, it will not meet the demands of billions of humans multiplying by 75 million people each year. Earthlings will need a new source of protein to sustain the world into the future.

Animal feed comes mostly from crops grown with pesticides and irrigation, fossil fuels, and big machinery. Feed made with fishmeal could be made with insects instead, leaving more fish for humans to consume. Insects can eat animal waste or plants that people and livestock cannot.

We already eat bugs whether we realize it or not. The FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook defines the “acceptable” limit of insect infestation in foods you may be eating every day. Aphids in beer? Hops may contain 2,500 aphids per ten grams. Canned fruit juices are allowed up to one maggot per 250 ml, curry powder is allowed up to 100 insect fragments (head, body, legs) per 25 grams and chopped dates are allowed up to ten whole dead insects. The list goes on. The trick is to keep people unaware that they’re eating these things.

Cockroaches Are Good Food

A better idea is to retrain our palates. Even the lowly cockroach has accomplished this. The German cockroach, Blattella germanica, quickly outwitted their human assassins when sweet baits became popular for roach control in the mid-1980s. Roaches with an aversion to sweets survived and multiplied. (If they can do it, why don’t I acquire an aversion to chocolate? Not motivated!) The cockroach’s aversion to sweets is heritable, and only several years were needed for Blattella germanica to adapt and boycott the baits. (“Science,” May, 2013. DOI: 10.1126/science.1234854)

Instead of poisoning creepy cockroaches in our homes, we could try eating them instead. Reality TV shows would have us believe you have to be naked and afraid to try that. In fact, a brilliant scientist who happens to be one of my favorite living authors has perpetuated the idea that you’d have to be starving in a post-apocalyptic dystopia to eat a cockroach, and even then it wouldn’t taste good. Sorry, E.E. Giorgi, but I have a bone to pick with you for “The House on the Cliff,” even though I gave it five stars as part the “Immortality Chronicles” (reviewed in “Perihelion,” September, 2015). The citizens of Astraca “sucked ants for breakfastinsect food and chewed on hay straws for lunch because that was all we had. We had roaches, too, and my brother claimed they tasted delicious roasted on an open fire. Even as starving as we were, I don’t remember enjoying the roaches.”

Giorgi may need to be indoctrinated with Critter Bitters, the gateway drug to insect cuisine, as co-founders Lucy Knops and Julia Plevin put it. Ease your way into entomorphagy by drinking insects with your booze, then build up to eating them.

Just don’t let me think about how awesome the immortal cockroach can be. They’re among the oldest living creatures on Earth. Survivors. Unkillable. How many other creatures can live for several weeks after being decapitated? What else can survive the fallout and radiation of nuclear war? If a star within ten light years of Earth turned supernova (blew up), cockroaches would be one of the few land-dwelling species preserved from extinction (David Seargent, “Does God Love Cockroaches?: And Other Idle Musings,” Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2009).

David George Gordon was working on his 1996 book “The Compleat Cockroach” when he first realized how truly edible cockroaches are—full of protein and crunchy, as those who step on them already know. Gordon’s “Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” includes recipes for all bugs, not just roaches. A revised and updated version includes new recipes and photos of dishes that actually make bugs look delicious.

Gordon’s advice for easing your way into entomorphagy:

Dry Roasted Crickets

Served as a snack for any number of persons.

Ingredients: 25—50 live crickets or however many you wish to cook/serve. Salt, or any preferred seasoning that can be shaken or sprinkled onto crickets after roasting.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Arrange the crickets on a cookie sheet, making sure none of them overlap. Bake at low temperature for about 60 minutes or until the crickets are completely dry or dry enough for personal taste.

At the 45-minute mark, test a cricket to see if it's dry enough by crushing with a spoon against a hard surface or between your fingers. The crickets should crush somewhat easily. If not, place them back inside oven until crisp.

Once roasted and cooled, place a few crickets between your palms and carefully roll them breaking off legs and antennae in the process. This ensures clean and crisp crickets without legs or antennae getting in the way.

Salt them or use any seasoning you wish. They are very good and healthy to eat as a roasted snack. Eat them on the spot or place them back into the freezer for future use.

(From the “Eat-A-Bug Cookbook,” by David George Gordon, Ten Speed Press, July, 2013.)

“Eighty percent of the world eats bugs in some form,” Gordon said in a “Business Insider” interview. “We’re really the weirdos because we don’t eat bugs. Western ideas about taste are pretty narrowly defined.”

Unlike the 1982 film “Victor Victoria” in which a starving singer (Julie Andrews) sneaks a cockroach from her purse and into her salad in hopes of eating for free, this twist on a classic joke might be a more likely scenario for future diners:

“Waiter! There’s a worm in my salad!”

“Just the one? I’m so sorry. How many mealworms do you wish?”

Unless you’re in Saigon. There, worms may be the most expensive item on the menu. A family friend who ate big, fat worms in the jungles of Vietnam during the war had no idea what a costly delicacy they are.

“How I love them raw ... with just a pinch of salt ... and a dry white wine,” a fox mumbles under anesthesia, after persuading a mouse dentist to extract a tooth in “Doctor De Soto” by William Steig. The fox was dreaming of raw mice, but that line is steal-worthy as a meme to inspire Americans to crave worms like those Vietnamese gourmets do.

World-class chefs such as Jose Andres incorporate bugs into their elegant dishes. Entomophagist pioneer Monica Martinez has launched the first all-bug street food cart. New “entopreneurs” keep popping up with restaurants that include bugs on the menu and businesses that supply them.

In the 2013 action/science fiction film “Snowpiercer,” the lower classes are fed insect cakes. This could be considered unusual; it is more common in science fiction films for the insects to eat the people.

TV has jumped on the insectivore bandwagon with gusto. Maybe not intentionally. The recent deluge of “back to the wild” programs almost always include several scenes of the participants chowing down on invertebrates of one form or another.

In 2010 edible insects “were nothing more than an academic idea in the US,” according to entomophagist and bug vivant Meghan Curry. “Today, this industry is booming, with a new startup joining the edible insect industrial complex just about every week."

Packed With Protein

Insects are as natural to eat as fruits and vegetables. They’re a more complete form of protein than many livestock alternatives. Insects offer almost as much fat, protein, vitamin, fiber, and mineral content as fish or livestock. House crickets average 205 g/kg protein, very comparable to beef’s 256 g/kg. Insects are also rich in essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Mealworms contain as much unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids as fish and even more than beef and pork. Some are also surprisingly high in iron. Locusts contain up to 20 mg/100g iron while beef supplies only 6 mg/100g.

Insects have shorter life spans and can be grown quickly and farmed in large quantities in small areas. They multiply faster than rabbits and need far less feed, water, and space. Insects produce a fraction of greenhouse gases such as methane and ammonia. (YouTube is full of spoofs on bovine flatulence.) Insects are cold-blooded, maintaining their internal body temperature far more efficiently than warm-blooded creatures. They don’t need to convert anywhere near as much feed into edible body mass. So why do we prefer to eat our barnyard animal friends without ever even tasting a gourmet bug dish?

Thanksgiving turkey will cost more this year due to the 2015 bird flu pandemic. Chickens and turkeys were slaughtered by the millions, many of them baked alive in over-heated barns as the cleanest way to kill them. Note: insects are less likely to transmit zoonotic infections to humans than pigs (swine flu, anyone?), cattle (mad cow disease) and other warm-blooded creatures we eat. Insects might not be for everyone, but they may become a vital part of global food security.

“I love bugs. And as the first person to popularize their eating in America, I take special pride in seeing their appreciation soar,” says gastronomical globetrotter Andrew Zimmern. “Head to Mexico City and taste the myriad ways the chefs there cook up ant eggs, maguey grubs, nopales worms ... then call me and tell me I’m wrong about their legitimate worthiness as basic comestibles.”

Next Millennium Farms, a company that launched in 2014, is North America’s largest supplier of edible insects for human consumption. “When we learned of the many people living in food-insecure countries and communities who were at risk in the future,” says Darren Goldin, one of three brothers who got their start raising food for reptiles, “we felt a responsibility to do something.” Now with two farms, 60,000 square feet in total, and a 2,000 square foot processing plant, the brothers produce 8,000 pounds of raw crickets per week, or 2,000 pounds of processed cricket powder. “Our products will help feed nutritious and cost effective food to the poor, malnourished, and food insecure, as well as preserve the environment and broaden the horizons of food lovers around the world,” Goldin says. (Alex Karn, “Peterborough This Week,” November 2, 2015.)

Have I myself made worms and bugs a staple of my diet? Not yet. I need to connect with suppliers, now that I’m finding out who they are. Last I’d heard, mealworms cost $20 per pound, while filet mignon is $14 per pound at Sam’s Club. Until bugs become part of the food industry, the way meat did, with mass production lowering the cost, I’ll have to breed my own food supply. When I figure out how to start my own worm ranch and hide it from the husband and kids, I’ll start sneaking grubs and bugs into casseroles. I might find a quick way to dig up enough grubworms to fill a skillet, but only after the husband stops fertilizing and “pesticiding” a lawn full of non-native grass. A reformer’s work is never done.

French-fried worms, anyone? Try them. You’ll like them. END

Carol Kean is the Book Critic for “Perihelion Science Fiction.” She has a degree in English and was a tech writer for Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation and Rockwell Collins. She has written two novels and published a few short stories.