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Cooking with BUGS! article in
The Columbus (OH) Dispatch!!
Mark Berman, a central Ohio entomologist, asks students at Hilliard Darby High School how many bugs they think they accidentally eat.
He's a curious cross between a mad scientist and an exotic chef, a hybrid of the forage-to-live mentality ofSurvivor and the cringe-worthy cuisine of Fear Factor.
Mark Berman eats bugs for a living.
OK, there's more to the 49-year-old than that: He's a trained educator who takes live insects to classrooms, festivals and corporate parties to calm fears and dispel myths. (You needn't worry about swallowing spiders in your sleep or getting bitten by a tarantula.)
He just happens to cook with them, too -- fried zucchini-and-mealworm pancakes, Gorgonzola-Dijon salad with caramelized grubs, crickets encased in sticky brittle.
"I have an unusual business," Berman said. "But who's crazier: the first person who ate a cow or the first person who ate a grasshopper?"
He speaks quickly and zealously, having heard all the jokes.
Yet the work, he said, isn't about cruelty or intentional nausea: Respect and environmental awareness are crucial.
A recent demonstration for students in a "Global Gourmet" class at Hilliard Darby High School emphasized such points.
Other nations, he said, consider bugs acceptable forms of sustenance and often delicacies -- as with barbecued grasshoppers in Mexico and scorpion soup in China.
As for the nutritional value: Crickets are low-calorie, caterpillars are high in protein, and termites are carbohydrate-free.
In addition, insects often lurk unknown in foods that people frequently eat -- from pizza sauce to fruit.
(The black flecks in applesauce? Probably bug remnants, Berman said.)
Gross, the students said.
Is the idea any more disgusting, Berman countered, than chemical-laden gummy candy, syrupy soft drinks or fattening fast food "served by a clown"?
After a prologue, the cooking began.
First came an innocent-
looking corn-and-onion hash, seasoned with mustard seeds and a cream sauce.
Then the flair: a heaping portion of oven-roasted crickets.
About a third of the 30-
student class gingerly dipped forks into the plates of insect-infused home cooking.
"I can feel the legs crunching!" said LeeAnn Chumita, a 16-year-old Darby junior.
"It's something different. I figured we should try it."
Squeals and laughs permeated the room.
One student found his taste buds "on an emotional roller coaster."
Others lamented wiry antennae stuck in their teeth.
Berman followed up with a standard blueberry-pancake recipe -- with wax worms.
The "plump little caterpillars," he said, resemble Rice Krispies when cooked.
Nina Rossi, a teacher of family and consumer sciences who hosted Berman in her class, praised the unusual lesson. She tried both entrees, too.
Several students "conquered their fears" by sampling the food or simply holding a live bug, said Rossi, whose great-grandfather Herbert Osborn served as a dean of the College of Entomology at Ohio State University.
"This is something they'll remember."
A native of the Berwick neighborhood, Berman grew up observing and collecting bugs from East Side woods and drainage ponds.
He earned a bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he once stood out as the only undergraduate student in his department.
He launched Bugman Educational Entoprises in 1996 while pursuing a doctorate in mosquito entomology from Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
The traveling hands-on program, a quick success, allowed Berman to hire several staff members.
In 2001, he returned to Columbus to pursue a teaching certificate at OSU and continue the guest-speaker pursuit (through which he offers observational seminars that don't involve cooking or eating bugs).
In the years since, though, a confluence of factors -- the Sept. 11 terrorist attack; reduced classroom availability, which he blames on the No Child Left Behind Act; and enrichment cuts during the recent recession -- almost squashed his business.
He persevered by providing more-diverse programs, giving seasonal discounts and enhancing his Web site -- www.bugs. org -- with video and social-networking links.
Appearances, depending on the size and scope, cost $130 to $500.
He doesn't eat live bugs, preferring to purchase them vacuum-sealed and ready to eat from Asian Supermarket & Gifts on E. Main Street (near Hamilton Road) or live from a "government-inspected" supplier, which breeds the insects mainly as food for larger animals, for freezing at home.
And, yes, he is a carnivore.
What he doesn't want is to be perceived as an oddball.
"The key to respect is understanding," he said. "That's my bottom line: to get people to take another look."
His work is complete if, after a seminar, participants are less apt to squash an insect -- or more likely to pop one in the mouth under appropriate circumstances.
The intended result seemed evident at Hilliard Darby.
"I guess I'm a little more open to what I'll be willing to eat now," said 18-year-old senior Alex Manifold, who followed his salami-sandwich lunch with helpings of the bug delicacies.
"It can't be worse than school food."
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