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F-M markets offer edible insects

While not popular in the U.S., grasshoppers are eaten in many other countries. Edible insects are available in some ethnic markets in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Dave Wallis / The Forum

I ate a bug.

And you can, too.

The Lotus Blossom Asian market on Main Street in Fargo carries not only grasshoppers, but kai mod dang - otherwise known as red ant larvae - and silkworm moth pupae - "pupa" being a pre-adult stage in the life of the bug.

The idea of eating creepy-crawly insects may be hard for Americans to swallow (all puns intended), but in some other parts of the world, there's nothing strange about it.

In the Middle East, they eat locusts (according to the Bible, so did John the Baptist). In some parts of Africa, termites are consumed. And some Africans, along with South Americans and Australians, also eat caterpillars.

"In Third World countries, it's a necessary protein source," says Jerry Fauske, an entomologist and collection manager for the North Dakota State University Insect Reference Collection.

Many people even find the little critters tasty.

The silkworm moth pupae is "actually pretty good," said Khna Chroeung, a native of Cambodia and co-owner of the Lotus Blossom store. "It's kind of creamy."

He also says it's high in protein. And co-owner Kina Wong, also a native of Cambodia, believes eating some insects is "a lot healthier than meat."

While that's a claim worth debate, there is some nutritional evidence on her side.

An article on Time magazine's website says that a "100-gram (3.5-ounce) portion of cooked Usata terpsichore caterpillars - commonly eaten in central Africa - contains about 28 grams (1 ounce) of protein, slightly more than you'd get from the same amount of chicken. Water bugs have four times as much iron as beef."

Of course, cultural norms are hard to escape, and eating bugs is something that many Americans aren't embracing just yet.

Chroeung says his own children have been "Americanized" and won't eat food of the bug variety.

"No, not even close," he says.

But for those of you still turning up your noses and screaming "ewwwww," don't kid yourself: We all eat bugs.

Fauske shared this appetizing little fact with me: The USDA allows "something like" 60 insect fragments per 3.5 ounces of chocolate sold in stores. And he didn't stop there. He then started talking about insect parts in ketchup and how there's something on the ketchup bottle that's there for the purpose of hiding bug parts from view.

And that's about where the conversation ended.

"We should stop talking," I said, "while I can still eat anything in the world."