Exotic EDIBLES - Educator bitten by culinary bug Wednesday

Feb 18, 2010, 16:40 PM by User Not Found
entomologist asks students at Hilliard Darby High School how many bugs they think they accidentally

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Courtney Hergesheimer 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 of Survivor and the cringe-worthy cuisine of Fear Factor.

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.

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