Grasshoppers. Food is Culture.
Food does more than sustain us. It is over which we tell most of our stories.
Davos looks like a lovely place to visit. At nearly a mile above sea level, the town of 10,000 or so is surrounded by the majestic Swiss Alps. In the winter, Davos is a playground for snowboarders and skiers. The summer brings its own beauty, beckoning climbers and sun lovers. Some just come to sample the vistas while sipping Davoser, a local craft beer.
If you have ever visited Leavenworth, Washington, you will have a sense of Davos. Ironically, while in Davos, you might enjoy staying at Hotel Montana, named after one of my favorite states. In Leavenworth, one of the best hotels is called Alpen Dorf Pension. Perhaps in Switzerland, Montana represents the exotic- the rugged- the independent. And it does. It has its microbrews, big sky-sized beef ranches, and rolling gold hills of dryland wheat.
Both Davos and Leavenworth cater to visitors. Millions of them. Because eating is a favorite pastime of visitors from everywhere, food choices are international with a slant towards old German dishes. When amidst the beauty of the Washington Cascades, one must eat the Weiner schnitzel, bratwurst, and red cabbage of the Alps. But, if not in the mood, a McDonald’s is just down the road. Food is culture.
Good chance you’ve heard of Davos not because it is your favorite place to visit, but because it is the favorite place for the rich and famous. Every winter, billionaires, politicos, and media/technology moguls gather in Davos, having been invited by the World Economic Forum (WEF). There’s a convenient airport and trains and roads to get you there. There are many wonderful eateries and pubs, and the skiing is spectacular. The gold embossed invitation, the itinerary, and the chance for others to rub your shoulder sounds… well… delicious and fulfilling! The bigger the egos, the more ravenous the appetite.
And if by chance you’ve been asked to be a presenter- to give a speech on how you see the global challenges and perhaps offer how the order of things might be changed, then you know you have arrived at the pinnacle of worldly success. And if you’ve been asked to give a talk on why humanity should be eating grasshoppers instead of hamburgers or Weiner schnitzel, then you’ll be considered an eco-visionary- the highest honor a human can attain, according to the Davos crowd.
For the last couple of years, after the Davos gathering of elites, news sites again churn out articles about how eating insects will save the world. Oh… and worms. Insects, not being ruminants, convert protein efficiently and therefore create fewer greenhouse gases, or so they argue. They stand supported by big scientific-looking multicolored three-legged charts making various claims.
I hope one of the lasting residues of our experience with the pandemic of 2020-21 is that we don’t simply offload our thinking to so-called experts. COVID taught us that so much is left to learn and just because a computer can be made to spit out a projectile of the future, it seldom is worth the paper it is printed on. Or when scientists gather and proclaim something to be irrefutable because a consensus is claimed. And if anyone who dares suggest we remain curious, be sent to a shaming room and labeled a ‘denier.’ So we are left to our own devices in our scramble for truth.
Because the WEF gathering at Davos has suggested that eating insects and worms will save the planet, I think it is only right that we begin to do some of our own thinking- our own research, if you will. Besides my pie hole, there are 8 billion other mouths to feed. That will take some big grasshopper farms!
Recently, with five fellow salivating souls, I was in a fossil-fueled van on my way to Texas Roadhouse- a noisy steak, pork, and chicken eatery with many locations. With a lull in the conversation that up till then was consumed with children, grandchildren, and scary visits to the emergency room stories, I ventured a question. If Texas Roadhouse offered grasshoppers as a side dish, would you choose it?
Silence. A thinking kind of silence.
“Sauteed in olive oil and five Chinese spices or smothered in a rich red barbecue sauce,” I offer.
Finally, a question, “Are they whole grasshoppers? Eyes, legs, everything?”
“Yep. You can pick them up, look em in the eye, and pop them in your mouth. If so curious, those who have eaten grasshoppers claim they taste like sardines.”
Most are looking at me now with a skewed eye of skepticism and a furrowed brow of disgust.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them what I knew of grasshoppers. If you were to internet search the anatomy of grasshoppers, you’d soon learn that they share many anatomical similarities with humans. They have joints and a circulatory system complete with blood. A head with eyes and a brain, and a mouth for chewing. A stomach and intestinal system that ends with an anus. Other insects are structured similarly. And they produce a little methane like you and me. That is what happens when cellular structures are broken down by saliva and gut biology to make the various nutrients available.
Unfortunately, no one could imagine a thick Angus filet medium rare with a side of grasshoppers. They stick with the loaded baked potato or the steamed green broccoli covered with cheese.
During the Old Testament days, religious leaders also thought long and hard about food. Jewish leaders came to forbid the eating of pork because a pig is not a ruminant, along with several other flaws. Today, those who follow kosher laws do so not because of their logic but because it is supra-rational- it is above mere human understanding.