Photo Credit: tbSMITH
In hindsight, watching The Fly the night before attempting to eat insects wasn’t a good idea.
Really, watching The Fly and then attempting to eat anything, ever again, is poor decision-making. I knew it even while watching it, while witnessing Jeff Goldblum’s transformation from a smoking hot young uber-nerd to Brundlefly. I’m pretty sure I cried out “No! Oh god, no!” at the scene with the donut, which will doubtlessly haunt me forever.
The entire bug-eating venture was probably doomed from the start. If I were more woo-woo than I am — admittedly, I am not woo-woo at all, I don’t even read my horoscope for amusement’s sake — I would be tempted to think that my inborn fear and disgust had manifested in such a way as to thwart any and all attempts at entomophagy. No matter how loudly I declared my intentions to eat bugs, the universe apparently saw right through my bravado.
(Imagine the universe as the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. No bugs for you!)
Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is only taboo in Europe and North America. Elsewhere, it’s a common enough, if unregulated, practice. Futurologists have been espousing the benefits for years: bugs are full of nutritious, easily harvested, sustainably grown. Most of the problems with growing meat don’t exist with insects. They require only a fraction of the grain and water that livestock do, don’t require large tracts of land to graze, aren’t hard to transport. The UN even released a statement encouraging countries to investigate the possibilities of insect agriculture.
In my previous column, I talked about future nausea and the normalization field. The thought of eating insects inspired a cultural nausea rather than a future one, but the queasiness is the same. The repulsion I feel when confronted with various arthropods (the phylum to which most insects and shellfish belong) is not unusual. The aversion to insects is nearly an instinct, probably with roots in the invention of agriculture, when bugs became competitors and pests. Even so, most cultures eat insects without blinking an eye.
It has not really caught on, not even in Chicago, a city with a certain daring in its approach to food. I managed to find four places to eat insects in Chicago and the surrounding areas. The first was at the Brookfield Zoo, which recently had an exhibit called Xtreme BUGS. There were two restaurants: Sticky Rice and Tepatulco. Lastly, my roommate told me about a food vendor that sold fried crickets in Pilsen.
The first place I wanted to try was at the Xtreme BUGS exhibit, which had invited chefs to cook up some insects for anyone daring enough to try. I figured it would be the most educational. Sadly, the exhibit closed before I had a chance to haul my curious self out to Brookfield on the Metra. Undaunted, I next went to Sticky Rice. I already love Thai food, and had heard great things about the restaurant. They serve an appetizer of fried bamboo caterpillars (listed on the menu as FRIED WORMS) and an omelet made with ant eggs. Also on the menu: frog legs, whole quail, pork blood and intestines.
I excitedly ordered the caterpillar and ant egg omelet. The waitress shook her head.
“We’re out of bugs,” she said.
My disappointment lasted until she brought my pork and intestine larb, thick and heavy, wonderfully spicy and aromatic. Then I was too busy devouring it.
Tepatulco was my last choice, and I was a little suspicious of it. While researching it, I was unable to ascertain whether Tepatulco was actually its name, or if it was called Las Fuentes. The menu wasn’t online. It was also in Lincoln Park, which is not the place I would generally think to go to for Mexican food; turns out it advertises itself as “upscale Mexican.”
I had also just watched The Fly. I was less excited about eating insects than ever, which possibly fed into a low-grade anxiety that started building when I got out of the taxi on North Halsted.
I think of that part of town as being affluent, but that block seemed to me to be both grubby and afflicted by the recession. My date and I passed by numerous boarded-over buildings, some of them with awnings hanging in tattered scraps. The streets seemed deserted, except for a few listless smokers outside of a blues bar. We found Las Fuentes after a minute or so: the place is large, with two separate dining rooms. One of the dining rooms was dark, but the other was lit up. It was deserted except for two men, who were both enrapt with watching the presidential debate.
The doors were locked. The hours said they were open until 11, and it was 9:30. Neither man looked up when we tried the door.
Unwillingly, I thought of the donut scene in The Fly again. I’m probably going to be haunted by it until I die. It will lie in my unconscious, dormant until a moment of disappointment or distress or unfulfilled potential, and then it will surface: Jeff Goldblum’s scabrous face, vomiting milky acid onto a jelly donut, and remarking with a certain wry amusement, That’s disgusting.
“Let’s find a bar,” I suggested to my friend.
I’m not even going to try and find the food vendor in Pilsen. At least not right away.