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Monday September 22, 2014

This past weekend, I ate bugs.

Let me back up.

I was invited to visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ annual BugFest by my friend and former VMNH colleague, Tamara Poles, who now works there as the Coordinator of Distance Learning.  She left out the part about asking me to eat crickets when she issued the invitation, but I would have gone anyway.  At least, I think I would have gone anyway.

BugFest poster at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

There’s something to be said for visiting other museums, even when you spend 40 hours a week working in one.  It provides the opportunity to experience a museum as a visitor who doesn’t know what’s around every corner rather than as an employee who watched the development and installation of the exhibits.  That, in turn, affords an opportunity to engage with new information and, perhaps more importantly, with new ways of presenting it.  And, of course, visiting another museum offers a chance to talk to other museum professionals and to discuss and exchange ideas with colleagues.

Besides, one of the reasons I choose to work in a museum is that I like them.  I believe they add value to society and enrich the lives of those who visit them.

It’s just an added bonus when I also get to be one of more than 30,000 people visiting a festival all about bugs and spend a day learning lots of new things.  Even when that day includes a pre-lunch snack featuring such dishes as cricket fried rice and a cricket and pistachio brittle.   (I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat the grubs and grits dish, I’m afraid.  That was where I drew that particular line.)

Insect cuisine: cricket caramel popcorn, sweet potato ice cream with marshmallow and chocolate-covered crickets, cricket fried rice and Chinese bread with mealworms, and cricket-pistachio brittle.

The term for the human consumption of insects as food is entomophagy, a word I didn’t know before my visit to BugFest.  I also didn’t know that sweet potato, marshmallow, and chocolate-covered cricket ice cream is actually very tasty.

One other thing I learned at BugFest is that I’ve probably been eating bugs my whole life.  Ground cinnamon is allowed to have 400 or more insect fragments per 50 grams.  For pepper, that allowance goes up to 475.  And chocolate? 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams, even when it’s not coating a cricket.

Tags: Entomology, Library, Mary Catherine Santoro, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Research and Collections