Here in the U.S., we tend not to think of insects as food, and we're horrified when they show up in our food.
But in other parts of the world, people eat bugs on purpose. The United Nations calls insects "a highly significant food source for human populations." The website edibleinsects.com claims people in 80 percent of all countries—amounting to one of every three humans—eat bugs. The things Americans want to keep out of our food are actually a great source of protein, fat, and fiber.
In some places, the law effectively prevents people from thinking of grubs as grub. A fascinating piece in Food Navigator by Massimo Reverberi, founder of a Thailand-based bug-pasta company, suggests there is a regulatory divide between the English-speaking world, which he says has been fairly welcoming of edible insects, and European Union countries, which "have felt the need to have rules and provide approvals before allowing any marketing."
Though finding a bug in one's meal is often cause for alarm and disgust, the laws around U.S. food standards recognize that insects making their way into what we eat is simply a fact of life. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations known as the "Food Defect Action Levels" allow certain enumerated amounts and types of insects to be present in many foods. FDA rules specify that frozen orange juice, for example, is acceptable for sale if it contains fewer than "5 or more [fruit fly] and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml." (The rules also discuss the maximum number of rodent hairs various foods may contain.)
Reverberi writes that regulators have been surprisingly good about establishing permissive regulations for edible-insect foods in this country. Case in point: "The Enterra Feed Corporation, based in British Columbia, was approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials to sell insect-based [animal] feed in the United States," the Pacific Standard reported in March.
While rules in the United States aren't unkind to those who would market bugs as chow, Americans have been slow to adopt the trend of eating creepy crawlers. In the early 1990s, while a college student in Washington, D.C., I was a regular at the Insect Club, which, as the name suggests, was insect-themed not only in its décor but also in its bar snacks. I thought the bug trend might take off back then. It didn't. But that is now changing.
Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, began offering toasted chili-lime grasshoppers last year. I tried them during an early-spring game in 2017 and found them to be a damn tasty beer snack. In fact, they've proved so popular that Poquito's, the local Mexican restaurant offering them up, was forced to cap sales.
Crickets also seem to be gaining popularity. "Crickets are the gateway bug," entrepreneur Jarrod Goldin—whose company, Entomo Farms, mixes bug protein with flour—told Fortune in 2016.
San Francisco–based Don Bugito started out as a bug-centric food truck specializing in pre-Hispanic American specialties. It now sells a variety of insect-based foods, including chocolate-covered bugs and cricket-flour granola.
Meanwhile, a food truck in Belgium has capitalized on the "roach coach" insult by selling skewered bugs, dubbed "crickets on a stick." "They aren't really crickets, they're grasshoppers," explains owner Bart Smit, "but it sounds better to say 'cricket on a stick."
Bug sales look set to skyrocket. "Market research predicts farmed insect production will rise 102 percent between now and 2022," James McWilliams explained in that Pacific Standard piece.
As long as regulators at home and abroad don't erect pointless hurdles along the way, a future filled with more tasty, crittery culinary choices seems happily inevitable.