Clarksville, TN – The risotto had crickets in it. Dr. Amy Wright, Austin Peay State University (APSU) professor of languages and literature, knew the insects were dead, but something about their small faces bothered her.
“These were whole crickets, and they appeared to be looking back at us,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.”
Wright had toyed with the idea of tasting a bug ever since the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued its 2012 report identifying insects as “a potential source for conventional production (mini-livestock) of protein, either for direct human consumption, or indirectly in recomposed foods.”
The topic fascinated her, and she knew if she ever hoped to write about it, she’d actually have to eat a bug. So Wright scooped up a fork-full of cricket mushroom risotto, ignored the little faces staring at her and took a bite.
That evening marked the beginning of a new creative journey for the Austin Peay State University writing professor. In the years that followed, her nonfiction essays about entomophagy – eating bugs – have appeared in prestigious journals and magazines across the country, and late last month, Iris Press published “Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm,” a chapbook of Wright’s essays.
“Using both personal and historical accounts, Wright creates vivid landscapes for the reader demonstrating that insects can fit just as well into our lives as any of the foods we traditionally eat in our society,” Anthropologist and author Julie Lesnick said. “Wright is masterful at drawing you into her world, and everyone could benefit from taking a quiet moment to join her there.”
For Wright, eating insects isn’t some novelty or fad. As the UN’s FAO report pointed out, the world’s population will likely increase to 9 billion people by 2050, “forcing an increased food/feed output from available agro-ecosystems resulting in an even greater pressure on the environment.”
In her essay “M?l,” first published in the Kenyon Review, Wright mixes history and science with her own personal experience of feasting on insects. The night she ate cricket risotto also happened to be her first date with Dr. Don Sudbrink, chair of the APSU Department of Agriculture and a veteran insect-eater. Before trying her first insect, Wright told her date she wasn’t sure she could go through with it.
“Don reassures me,” she writes, “that while grasshopper legs can get stuck in your teeth and should be removed, crickets can keep their appendages, which soften like the petiole of a spinach leaf.”
For the squeamish, the idea of looking at small cricket bodies or pulling grasshopper legs from their teeth might be too much to ask. That’s why, Wright explains, advances in entomophagy are removing the personality from this food source.
“There are chips that you wouldn’t be able to tell from Doritos,” she said. “The insects just look like pepper, and they add some protein to it. That’s where it’s going to go – chips and pasta so you can’t really tell there’s anything in it.”
And, just as a bad chef can ruin a beautiful cut of meat, Wright discovered that canned silkworm pupae can sour a person’s appetite. During that first date with Sudbrink, the couple popped open a can they’d bought in Nashville.
“I will say what tasted like bite-sized turkey livers steeped in formaldehyde did not lead easy romance to our stir fry,” she writes.