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MANY ARE STILL BUGGED BY GROWING POPULARITY OF INSECTS AS FOOD

SHARE MANY ARE STILL BUGGED BY GROWING POPULARITY OF INSECTS AS FOOD

Picture this: You're at a swanky cocktail party and, lucky you, the first person you run into is carrying the tray of food.

"Hors d'oeuvre?" he offers. "You simply must try the fried beetle larvae."Gulp.

It may seem like a far-out notion, but there are Americans who think eating insects is a good idea. A few restaurants even serve six-legged munchies.

Besides beetle larvae, Gene DeFoliart remembers sampling Thai water bugs, live honeypot ants and mealworm trail mix at an entomological society banquet in 1992.

"It was all good," he said, "except I don't think people knew how to eat those giant water bugs effectively."

DeFoliart, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, started the Food Insects Newsletter in 1988. It now has about 3,000 subscribers.

Although the evidence is anecdotal, DeFoliart reports that interest in insects as food is growing. They are a good source of protein, and larvae contain high amounts of fat. In fact, a 1987 study by Darna Dufour, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, found that the food value of ants, palm grubs and caterpillars is comparable to that of goose liver, pork sausage and beef liver, respectively.

Several countries are exploring ways to make high-protein meal or flour from insects, DeFoliart said. And a Canadian researcher would like to see insects processed into forms such as hamburgers - made of bugs, not beef.

Termites, grubs, locusts and other insects are routinely eaten by people in Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia - and they're often a major source of dietary protein.

Still, you're not alone if you find the notion of Americans consuming creepy-crawlies a little hard to swallow. In North America and Europe, the "S" factor - squeamishness - has been tough to overcome.