By Xuan Truong, Ashley Standafer and Tommie Robinson
Springfield, MA; Hyden, KY; Jonesboro, GA
On a recent Wednesday, a lone ice cream truck was parked in front of a side exit at New York’s bustling Chelsea Market. This wasn’t a typical Mister Softee truck playing jolly tunes and selling soft serve. There were no nuts or sprinkles—here, the topping options included grasshoppers, mealworms and other insects.
The local Van Leeuwen ice cream shop created the treats as part of a partnership with The Economist and distributed them for free to anyone brave enough to try them. At first, we thought the idea was crazy—and disgusting. What normal person would eat bugs? After speaking with the truck’s employees, however, we learned that these critters are a healthy source of protein.
According to the truck’s brochure, there are about 2,000 edible bugs in the world, and small quantities have the same amount of protein as a burger with “far less fat and fewer calories.” They’re also an eco-friendly selection. “These bugs help the environment by decreasing greenhouse gases through offering an alternative to meat, which is slaughtered and produced in factories,” said a woman working in the truck named Kaye.
Felicia Santiago stopped by the truck and was surprised to find that the critters tasted familiar. “I got the honeycomb,” she said while digging in, “but the worms feel like Rice Krispies.” After a few more bites, she laughed. “The flavor is like if I had a french fry, it would be a blackened one. Like a nutty version of that.”
Kaye grinned at us—almost mischievously—as she sprinkled roasted mealworms on top of our chocolate chip-flavored treat. We hesitated to dig in; those mealworms looked like bitter medicine. To our surprise, though, they did not assault our tongues. The taste was balanced, pleasant even, and made the ice cream’s richness even more enjoyable.
Embracing this unusual food could help Americans cut out processed meats and eliminate slaughterhouses that pump toxic gas. Perhaps it could help end world hunger. Bug ice cream may not be anyone’s fantasy meal, but its purpose is especially sweet.