Thus we come to the third, and final part of our interview with the authors of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. I want to thank all our participating authors for playing along with our odd questions, and, of course, a huge thank you to our most gracious host, Fran Wilde. I hope you all had as much fun with this Cooking the Books interview as I did!
Have you ever eaten an insect on purpose?
DK Mok: No, although I’ve read some interesting studies about how to convince people that they didn’t mind eating fried grasshoppers. (Zimbardo et al., 1965).
Forrest Aguirre: No, but two of my kids have. Watched them down fried grasshoppers when they were boy scouts. Mmm, mmm.
Amanda C. Davis: No, but I have eaten one by accident and not spit it out.
Brenta Blevins: On purpose? Well, I’ve certainly consumed foods that contained cochineal, which is the insect that makes carmine, the red/orange food dye. Since that also goes into makeup, I’ll bet I’ve worn insects, too.
Nathaniel Lee: I had chocolate-covered ants once. They were kind of boring. My rooms in both of my parents’ houses were in the basement, and at least once I woke up choking on a spider, so I’m sure I’ve eaten other bugs. I just wasn’t awake for it.
Juliet Kemp: I think I can safely here say “ewwwwwww”. (Also, I’m vegan.) I have an allotment, though, so I’m certain that I’ve eaten the odd one by accident, a fact which in general I prefer not to contemplate.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yes. In the south of Mexico there are these types of crickets that are sold as food and I’ve had them. They were crunchy. I’ve also eaten snake, iguana, and a variety of other very odd things.
E. Catherine Tobler: I have not! I have avoided eating them on purpose many times, however.
Simon Kewin: No. Nor has an insect ever eaten me on purpose. Unless you count midges, which seem to like to gang up and try.
Steve Barber: No. And now that I’ve got a CPAP machine, I won’t even ingest one accidentally.
Conor Powers-Smith: When I was in third grade a friend of mine came back from vacation in South America with a jar of these huge fried ants, so we all tried one. I remember one kid practically throwing up over it, but I think that was more about the idea than the actual ant. I thought it tasted like a peanut. I would’ve taken another, but it was a pretty small jar. So sometimes, it’s best not to make a big deal out of it, and just eat the ant.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: Does a tequila worm count? Does it still count if it was after I’d drunk most of the bottle?
Ada Hoffmann: Nope! (I guess that was a boring answer. I’ve had shrimp with the legs on.)
Steven L. Peck: Many times. When I was getting my doctorate at NC State the insect museum would host a day with insect cuisines. Cricket pizza, meal worms and string beans, and grub stir fry. It was all pretty good!
Samantha Henderson: No (unless you count aquatic crustaceans) – I once accidentally ate a fly, though. For a long time after that I had a real problem with raisins. Sometimes now when I eat a raisin I think maybe this is a fly, but it’s a delicious fly high in iron, so I can deal.
Did you come to any insights during the writing of your story into the mind/behavior/worldview of your particular arthropod or insect? Do these insights have any value applied toward human behavior?
DK Mok: I learned that many insects stop moulting once they become adults, and therefore stop growing. Some people also become very comfortable in their carapaces. Moulting is uncomfortable, and leaves you vulnerable, but sometimes you need to see the world with a fresh set of eyes.
Forrest Aguirre: Insects are tough on the outside, but rather fragile on the inside. Once you break through the chitin, they’re kind of squishy and oozy. I know people like this. Squishy, oozy people.
Nathaniel Lee: Scorpions gonna scorp, yo. But maybe they don’t always have to. If you try to teach them a better way, be prepared to endure a lot of stinging in the interim.
Brenta Blevins: Kafka clearly is drawing a comparison between those working in traveling sales and being a bug. Hrm…
E. Catherine Tobler: I suspect I made my planthoppers more human than they truly are, but I am of the belief that all creatures have wants and desires. These can’t always be properly expressed, or even perhaps fulfilled thanks to our natures, but I also believe we must keep trying.
Simon Kewin: The great lesson of evolution is “adapt or die”. My beetles knew that. In the end my human characters did too.
Conor Powers-Smith: I had no realizations concerning my insect’s motivations or worldview, which is fine with me. I’m comfortable with insects being inscrutable. That’s one of the things that makes them good devices for fiction. [My fly] is a stand-in for other things, fate or circumstances or just the way things shake out when they could’ve shaken out so much nicer, and if I’m not comfortable with that stuff being inscrutable, I guess I better get comfortable with it.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: My story is a not very subtle story of alien insects mirroring human colonialistic behaviour so the insights led to the story, rather than the other way around.
Ada Hoffmann: I did check the centipede Wikipedia article once or twice, so I guess I can’t say I did zero research, but really, ‘pedes don’t live in swarms on people’s skin! I was less interested in arthropod science and more interested in using them as a visceral symbol of isolation and self-loathing. If that’s not pretentious.
Steven L. Peck: Not in this story, but I have a poem that will come out soon on ant perspectives and how they might see the world. I’m very curious about the place of mind in the world and in watching some of the higher hymenoptera I can’t help but think they are in some minimal sense thinking.
Samantha Henderson: I don’t think my insects are really very realistic. Instead of transforming my protagonist, I’m pretty sure they would’ve eaten her.
If you were having your characters over for a dinner party, what would you serve?
DK Mok: Hot chips. Tate’s happy to eat anything that hasn’t been sat on by a toddler, and Ryan needs to loosen up.
Forrest Aguirre: The beetle, Cascone. His little beetle soul would feel great pride at having proven so useful. On the other hand, he might be a little condescending, and no one likes a condescending insect. That’s all OK, though: You don’t have to like an insect’s taste to like how an insect tastes.
Amanda C. Davis: My Drift characters? I think it would have to be one of those big apology feasts full of comfort food: let’s say a creamy chicken-and-rice dish with gravy, sweet corn on the cob, fresh bread (I make AWESOME bread), milk, and a big serving of I’m-just-the-author, please-don’t-hurt-me for dessert.
Brenta Blevins: Greg would be an easy guest; as an omnivore, he’d eat anything. Of course, that might also include crumbs dropped on the floor or anything placed in the trash can, so he might not be the best dinner guest. I imagine he might not have the best manners; I wonder if he could keep a napkin on his carapace?
Nathaniel Lee: I think Vincent would get a kick out of processed marshmallow food-objects. He hasn’t had a lot of time to really explore the changing world as the years have passed. So that and some really good barbecue. I don’t think Horse actually eats…
Silva Moreno-Garcia: Shoot. Okay, if I was having Orrin Gris for dinner I’d have an elegant and refined Mexican meal. Chiles rellenos in an almond sauce, maybe nice soup made from flowers (sopa de flor de calabaza) and probably some grand and theatrical dessert. And then I would hide an insect in the dessert.
E. Catherine Tobler: Cupcakes decorated with chocolate twigs, of course. This way, the planthoppers could form the flowers themselves. I would make every effort to not eat them.
Steve Barber: Well, my “characters” seemed to enjoy long pork, so….
Conor Powers-Smith: If I were having my characters over for a dinner party, I’d make sure there was plenty of beer in the house, order them a pizza, and leave them to it, while I went in the other room and tried to get to know some new characters. No offense, guys, but you’re yesterday’s meatballs.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: I’d be rather concerned that I might be the main course!
Ada Hoffmann: In the extremely unlikely event that I had Centipede Girl and Centipede Woman over for dinner, I’d toss a nice ham on the floor and get out of the way. They’re carnivorous, but they only have access to sewer animals most of the time, so I think something from a proper butcher shop would be a treat for them.
Steven L. Peck: I’d serve Wat again! It’s that good.
And that concludes our interview. Our deepest thanks again to D.K. Mok, Forrest Aguirre, Amanda C. Davis, Brenta Blevins, Nathaniel Lee, Juliet Kemp, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, E. Catherine Tobler, Simon Kewin, Conor Powers-Smith, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Ada Hoffmann, Steve Barber , Samantha Henderson, and Steven L. Peck.