Before Amy Wright indulges in crickets and mealworms, she makes sure to cook them first.
Wright eats bugs. All kinds of bugs. Grasshoppers. Cicadas. Beetles. But her favorite is larvae of the wax moth, a rather unremarkable insect that thrives in bee hives.
“It’s most delicious,” she said. “It sounds awful because the word larvae just sounds bad, but they are creamy colored, and they are really sweet because they feed on raw honey.”
Before you run away screaming, consider this: 80 percent of the world’s population eats insects. Wright is proud to be among them.
The 1993 George Wythe High School graduate first thought of munching on some moths in 2013 when she stumbled across a TED talk by entomologist Marcel Dicke, whose lecture has been seen by more than 1.5 million people around the world.
“He talked about the different bugs he had eaten and how they can be eaten, like making stir-fry out of locusts,” she said. “And I thought this is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. And I wanted to try them.”
So she did.
But first she found a bug expert to guide her, making sure the insects she selected were edible. Of the millions of varieties of insects, about 1,000 of them can be eaten. Wright, an English professor at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee, asked one of the school’s entomologists to help her out.
“Crickets are the most basic to start with,” Wright said. “So we sat down to dinner and ate some crickets. I decided to make it fancy so I took a recipe for mushroom risotto and put crickets in it.”
After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1997, Wright earned a master’s degree from the University of Colorado Boulder and her doctorate at the University of Denver. She teaches creative writing at Austin Peay. She is the author of two poetry books, one collaboration and six chapbooks. In her most recent chapbook, “Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm,” she recalls her first cricket.
“In my mouth, the cricket breaks apart like a mushroom cap pearled with rice or an artichoke heart, a corn chip softened by salsa. But it is only akin to these things, being an experience unto itself,” she writes.
Wright and the entomologist, Don Sudbrink, eventually started dating and are still together.
“You eat bugs together; you stay together,” she said.
The risotto was delicious, but Wright admits it was difficult to take that first bite.
“It’s hard when you first see them, they are whole. There is advantage to eating the whole little body, it has a lot of fiber and is good for digestive systems, but you see their whole little body and they look like they are alive,” she said.
“Just that first step was huge,” she added. “Just to eat them is very scary, but once I did it, that was it. Once you eat a bug, you are like, oh, it’s fine. It’s a mindset, and once you get past that mental hurdle, it’s like how is it different from other things that we eat, like shrimp?”
Over the years, Wright has learned to grind up her insects and use them as seasoning, like pepper. She said they take on the flavor of whatever they feed on, much like cows and pigs do. And like beef, insects are a great source of protein. There’s a type of ant that tastes like lemons. Mealworms have a nutty flavor, she said. Along with crickets, they serve as a base protein.
Wright enjoys eating bugs for many reasons. It’s different. It’s an adventure, especially when you fall in love with an entomologist. And it’s also creative, learning what foods pair well with insects.
“People match wines with food, but nobody has worked about the pairings of grasshopper flavors with fish marinades,” she said.
According to Wright, harvesting and eating bugs is in its infancy stages. For example, at first, apples were hard little sour bites, she said, but now they are cultivated and giant and sweet with all sorts of varieties.
“Insects are in the baby phases of that,” Wright said. “Right now, we are in the spread-the-good-word phase.”
Finding bugs to eat is becoming easier, especially online. Six years ago, she could only find them in Asian markets. People in Asian countries have eaten bugs for centuries, she said.
Wright eats a bug every day. She enjoys Chirps Chips, made with crickets, which look like pepper sprinkled on the chips. She also likes Exo energy bars, made with cricket protein. She freezes mealworms and grinds them up before adding them to food.
“You can’t see it, it looks like pepper,” she said. “Chirps Chips are just delicious. It wouldn’t bother you at all.”
To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.