During his undergrad days, Richard got quite the reputation for his barbecue skills. He definitely inherited those genes from his father. A year of cultural nurture as a Rotary Exchange student in Brazil polished his talent—they LOVE meat in Brazil and barbecue everything from chicken hearts and sausages to slabs of steak.
(Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brazilian gauchos herded cattle. It is said that when they stopped to bunk down, they skewered beef, poultry, lamb or pork, or maybe all four, cooked them over a fire and called it churrasco, Portuguese for barbecue. Churrasco permeated Brazilian life into the 21st century, spreading from the grasslands of Rio Grande do Sul to cities like Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.)
In college, Richard had a job as a bartender that morphed into grill-master for parties. By the time he was working as receptionist at Vesalius College, the faculty requested his services at their staff barbecues because he had the rep of being more than a mussels-and-frites kind of guy.
So now he is in grad school at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, which, in Flemish, translates as the Free University of Brussels. (Not to be confused with the nearby French Free University of Brussels—Universite Libre de Bruxelles). Neither school is free, but both have more manageable fees than stateside schools. He is studying linguistics, but apparently the curriculum does not include communicating with your mother…
So, what’s a mother to do? I can’t afford to be a cell-phone helicopter mom and there is the complication of a six-hour time difference. Richard is busy. He drops his 15-month-old daughter off at crèche (Belgian daycare) and hops on the train for his hour-plus commute to class. And, to be fair, he often pampers his Nonna with packages of Belgian chocolates. But providing mom with a “what I did in school today” report seems to have fallen by the wayside. So, I prowl the Internet for any news of life at the VUB.
When I scanned the school website I learned that Richard’s university is known for having the first commercial kitchen to serve insect-based (intentionally, that is) food.
In October 2014, the VUB cafeteria introduced worm burgers to the student population. They consumed 400 worm burgers on the first day. There were no leftovers. Since then, the university cafeteria has served insect-based entrées every two or three weeks. Worm burgers are rich in protein, low in fat, and reportedly taste “nutty with a hint of bacon.” The cafeteria later expanded its menu to include worm nuggets with autumn salad, soup, and dessert—a bargain for 5 euro.
The school’s worm burgers are made of the lesser mealworm or buffalo worm, Alphitobius diaperinus. The worms are dried, then ground, and shaped into patties. These worms are actually the larvae of the Tenebrionoidea beetle, and have been used as bird and fish food for years, if that makes you feel better.
The Belgian company Damhert Nutrition actually has a whole line of products named “Insecta.” Just a month before the worm burgers were introduced at the VUB, Dambert began offering tomato or carrot spreads containing mealworms (only 4-6% of the product) at Belgium’s Delhaize supermarkets.
There is a song playing in my head right now. As I youngster, when I was pouty and feeling sorry for myself, my mother would sing, Nobody Likes Me (Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms). And yes, I passed it on to the next generation. Little did I know that the song would return now that the kids are in their 20s.
A report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization concludes that insects are a good source of protein, and a healthy, nutritious alternative to chicken, pork, beef and fish. Insects raised as food release fewer greenhouse gases than livestock and do not require clearing land—definite environmental benefits. To produce the same amount of protein, insects require 12 times fewer nutrients than beef and half as many as chicken, and insects consume much less water. In 2013 Belgium issued national guidelines covering the sale of insects as food.
Intellectually, eating insects makes sense. I know I’ve eaten bugs. My sister’s friend, Mariko, gave our family a container of dried grasshoppers from Japan when I was about 10. My lasting impression is that eating them was like munching on sweet and soy-salty Styrofoam. Unintentionally, I have swallowed gnats while biking, eaten a baby cabbageworm or two hidden under a curl of kale, or gobbled a weevil here and there in rice. But I also know, emotionally, I’m not ready for worm burgers, even if my baby barbecues them on the grill.
Maybe it is a Mom Thing. I keep telling myself: He is 23, not 13. Just as I did when he was 13, and I told myself he wasn’t 3. At 3, he needed me. He was my cling-on. His dimpled fists would hold onto my arms at bedtime, begging for one more lullaby. Intellectually, I know they grow up and have lives of their own. Emotionally, well, that’s a different story. Laurie Lynch
Written on Slate: “A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave good-bye.”