The Urban Survival Networks Guide to Eating and Growing Insects

Insects, being the most numerous of any form of life on earth are not only easy to find but easy to catch, and a good source of protein! In fact, the bodies of insects consist of 65-80% protein, whereas only 20 percent of beef is protein. Thus when shit hits the fan insects will prove to be a valuable food source, regardless of how repugnant they may seem.

Eating Insects When SHTF

This recommendation however excludes the following insects from consumption:

  • Adult insects that either sting or bite.
  • Insects that are covered with hair.
  • Insects that are brightly colored.
  • Spiders.
  • Disease-carrying insects like flies, mosquitoes, and ticks, and caterpillars.
  • Any insect that gives off a strong odor.

The best place to search for insects will naturally be on the ground. Here are a few suggestions of where you can also find them:

  • Rotting wood for termites, beetles and grubs (beetle larvae).
  • Under objects that aren’t normally moved like mail boxes, rocks, concrete slabs.
  • Dark undisturbed places such as the attic, in the walls, basement.
  • In areas with grass, soil and vegetation.

Preparing insects to eat is not difficult, since most of them can be eaten raw or mixed with other edibles. There are a few insects that you absolutely must cook. Any insect with a hard outer shell (like beetles and grasshoppers) must be cooked since they tend to carry parasites. Before cooking you should always remove the wings and legs of the insects. Although it’s not necessary to cook all bugs, it’s highly advisable since getting sick is a risk not worth taking (plus you’ll improve the taste). The taste of insects can naturally be improved with cooking, and adding a few strong spices. Drying them out and grinding those up into a paste or powder will help remove the disgust factor since it no longer looks like a bug.

The criteria to qualify as best survival food include: it should have excellent food value in terms of high calories, made up of protein and fat, easy to find, to get your hands on, and to prepare a meal from. The survival food that best fills all of these requirements is insects. They are very cost-effective, cost being the energy expended in the effort to find and gather them, and the other side of the equation being the gain you get in energy from consuming them.

For this reason, when you are in a survival situation you should always be on the lookout for insects and keep a container to deposit them within easy reach. In this way you are not spending extra energy, you are, so to speak, hunting and gathering as you go about your daily activities without expending extra valuable energy, and at the end of a day you may find you’ve amassed quite a collection.

This is true even when it’s very cold and all sorts of creatures are harder to find. Insects can be found if you know where to look, such as under rocks or rotting wood, or in partially-hidden spots favored by insects to lay their eggs or spin their cocoons.

It may be easier to accept the concept of eating insects if you realize that you have actually been eating insects your whole life. It’s true – most of the food we eat contains insects or parts of insects that are invisible to the naked eye. So, although you may never, up to this point, have knowingly eaten an insect, it’s probable that you have downed more than a pound of them in your lifetime. Insects that people have eaten throughout the ages when under duress include grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, termites, ants, caterpillars, spiders, moths, and more.  In some cultures, people have always eaten insects as a matter of course, while certain insects are even considered a delicacy.

As with all wildlife we can catch and intend to eat, insects must be cooked; they can be added in to soups and stews, or can be roasted directly over a fire. Insects are such a good source of food that they should be the first item that comes to mind when a knowledgeable survivor begins a search for food – this is because of their food value, as they are higher in the concentration of protein and fat than meat, and they’ve got plenty of minerals and vitamins as well. Besides, they are so numerous, live everywhere in the world, and you can find, catch, and cook them without much expenditure of energy.

You don’t have to eat the insects whole, since they are easily added in to other foods – all you do is grind or mash them up and put them into whatever dish you’re preparing.  This kind of thing happens all the time and we’re not talking here about survival situations. Examples are easily found if you look at food processing – granaries cannot remove all the insects that infest the grain, so the little creatures end up getting ground up into the flour; and the same thing happens in a canning factory.

Insects fall into the category of something you should get used to eating before you find yourself in the survival situation out in the wild. One way to do this is to make your own insect flour and add it to bread and other dishes, giving your menu an instant nutrition boost. But how do you get the insects to begin with? One recommended way is to raise them yourself. This is a very easy project, within the grasp of anyone, even apartment dwellers, since it takes up little room, will not generate complaints from neighbors, and does not require consultation with a veterinarian nor any manual labor to speak of. Not to mention the fact that when it comes time to slaughter them for the table, it is not an operation fraught with blood and gore, and so far has not drawn any attention from animal rights activists.

Moreover, the raising of insects should get a thumbs-up from environmentalists, since they take up very little space per pound of protein that can be obtained, and there is no destruction of wildlife habitat.

The major problem that you will likely encounter in your effort to incorporate insects into your food lifestyle is the “yuck” factor, and it is for this reason that those of us who are enthusiastic insect growers and/or eaters must take it upon ourselves to educate our friends and neighbors, and, we hope, the general public, about the topic.  Do not get discouraged when you encounter the inevitable revulsion that is the first reaction of most of those you will talk to about this, but remember, we must soldier on, because insects are really the next big thing in food, and when considering the future, the concept of insects as food is really in the same realm as the idea of saving the planet for future generations.

Acquiring Insects

Let’s say you’ve got a recipe you want to try. Getting the ingredients is, believe it or not, going to be the hardest part. They don’t usually sell live or butchered insects in the local supermarket, and it is very rare to find any preserved items featuring insects on the shelves – what few there are, are novelty items. Your choices for acquiring the insects you need for your recipe are, therefore, finding and catching them in the real world, which means in the wild and by raising insects yourself.

Catching them in the wild if, you don’t live in a rural area, is relatively work-intensive and can carry some risk, so gathering insects in this way is advisable only if you know for sure the insects you’re gathering are edible and that the area you’re searching for them in is pesticide-free. If you can ascertain these facts and you want to go ahead with the project, the kinds of edible insects you would be most likely to collect on such a hunting trip would be field crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, grubs, etc. A word of caution here: Do not eat insects that you find dead or any that have a bad odor!

Of course, the easiest way to go is simply to raise the insects for your menu. Mealworms and crickets are perhaps the easiest insects to raise and to prepare, and they can commonly be found for sale at pet stores as well as bait shops and in bulk amounts from insect suppliers. When you have obtained your live insects from any of these commercial sources, you should be aware that they will probably have been fed sawdust or newspapers or some other packing material, and for this reason it is recommended that, before you attempt to add them to your menu, you should feed them on fresh grain for a few days. This is not because the packing materials that they’ve been fed on are harmful, but because with those materials still in the insects’ bodies, the taste of the insects might be negatively affected.

Raising the insects you’re going to use is really the best way to have a steady supply of edible insects on hand. While gathering the insects is somewhat more convenient, raising them has the advantages of being much cheaper, more protective of the environment, and will bring you greater satisfaction over time.

Preparing Insects for Cooking

First, I should mention something about eating uncooked insects.  They are eaten raw in some countries, and indeed they provide extra nutrients when consumed that way.  Nearly every edible insect can be eaten raw, but because of the widespread use of pesticides, this is not advisable unless you have raised the insects yourself and thus are sure they have not been treated with any of these poisons. Insects in urban areas might be easy to find in abundance, but you shouldn’t gather them for eating unless you know that you’ve become immune to pesticides (this excludes insects found in parks and gardens). If you do decide to eat insects raw be sure to wash them thoroughly first.

If you’re a beginner, you will no doubt want to start with cooking your insects. The following instructions are for crickets or mealworms: First rinse them and then pat them to dry. This step is much more difficult to accomplish with crickets than with mealworms. If you are preparing crickets, put them into a colander or strainer and quickly cover it with some material to keep them from escaping, such as a piece of cheesecloth or a kitchen utensil with a flat wire screen, and secure the cover because you’re going to be shaking the colander.  Now, run some water through the colander and then shake it until all the water has drained out.

Now you put the insects, either the mealworms or the crickets, into a plastic bag, seal it and place the bag in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Don’t get distracted and forget about them, because you’re only waiting till they’re dead – you don’t want them frozen.

When they are dead, take them out and rinse them once more and remove parts that will not be eaten, such as heads, wing cases, legs – this is really a matter of your own personal preference. Some who have eaten crickets advise that cricket legs can get stuck in your teeth. The insects are now ready to be used in recipes.

Insect Flour

Drying the insects in the oven is the first step in making insect flour. Lightly grease a cookie sheet and spread the prepared insects out on it, and put it in a 200 degree oven.  Let the insects dry until they can be easily crushed and are somewhat brittle. This may take from one to three hours. Now, grind them using a blender or coffee grinder until they’re of the consistency, similar to wheat germ. You now have flour that can be used in almost any recipe, in breads, soups and stews, and sprinkled on top of salads, etc.

What’s Healthier: Insects or Beef?

  • Beef: Each gram provides approximately 18% fat, 18% protein, 58% water, 200 to 300 calories per 100 grams.
  • Termites (Live): Each gram provides approximately 28% fat, 23% protein, and 44% water, 350 calories per 100 grams.
  • Moth Larvae: Each gram provides approximately 15% fat, 63% protein, 4% water, 265 calories per 100 grams.

Taking out the “Yuck Factor” in Eating Bugs

A good way to begin the process of ridding yourself of your long-held predilection to be disgusted by the prospect of eating insects is with mealworms. Buy them from a pet food store, process them according to the instructions given in this book, and fry them up. Most people find them quite palatable if prepared in this way. The next step would be to try eating a live mealworm (properly prepared, of course). Just pop it into your mouth and remember to bite down; eaten this way, they are actually good enough to become a favorite snack food.

Mealworms: This is one of the easiest insects for a beginner to grow. Start off with about 100 mealworms, since as a beginner you’re probably not going to eat very many at first.  Prepare a flat tub that has a lid (plastic is recommended) and spread about an inch of oats, or a different grain will do, on the bottom. Add a hard vegetable, such as a carrot or potato to serve as the water source for your mealworms, then put them in, put the lid on, and wait. It takes patience and frequent but minimal care. You need the patience because the mealworms you buy at pet shops are in the larval stage, and it will probably be couple of months before they mature, and the frequent but minimal care means you should replace the hard vegetable often to avoid mold developing. If you are pleased with your results and want to eat mealworms in greater quantities more frequently, you can start a large colony with an initial purchase of 5000 or more; reptile food supply stores sell these amounts in bulk. If you are concerned about the possibility of ants infesting your grain, the mealworm tub can be floated in a tray or a larger tub that has a layer of soapy water at the bottom. There is really no danger of mealworms escaping from their tub of grain unless you forget to keep the lid on.

Maggots: Maggots, as we all know, are easy to find and capture, usually available in any quantity you want, and what’s more, easy to prepare. When cooked, they have the look of wild rice, and even taste like it.

Worms: You can find worms by digging in soil and dirt in areas with vegetation. Digging isn’t always necessary since you can spot them moving about on the ground after it’s rained. They’re easy picking after the rain, so don’t let the opportunity go to waste! You stored food will last much longer if you incorporate external food sources. Worms are an excellent source of protein and can be eaten raw, but first they must be soaked (live) for a few minutes in clean water to drown them.

Grasshoppers: Grasshoppers are commonly eaten as a regular item on the menu all over the world, and for good reason: they have, in common with other insects, high nutrient values, but they taste good, are abundant and easy to capture as well. This is one of the foods that you can use to practice preparing survival meals in the comfort of your home, since there are many available recipes. They can be boiled in a soup or, when they are dried or fried, they have a texture and consistency similar to potato chips or cheese puffs. It is not advisable to eat live grasshoppers, as they carry parasitic worms.

Crickets: It’s fairly easily to raise crickets, but the drawback with them is that they’re accomplished escape artists. There are many ways to raise crickets so they don’t escape. One suggested method is to find a large container with tall sides and a lid that fits securely, such as an aquarium. At the bottom of the empty container, lay in a few inches of potting soil, and several empty egg cartons. The crickets will use the potting soil to lay their eggs in, and the egg cartons will be where the crickets roost. Next, add some grains and small pieces of veggies that have been placed in a small bowl and another container of cotton balls moistened with water. Now, carefully deposit 50 to 100 of the crickets. Frequently – every other day or so, apply a misting of water to the potting soil and make sure the food is kept fresh. Be sure you secure the lid each time you open the container! An additional safeguard against cricket escape is to place a rock on the lid, one heavy enough to keep the lid on even if you knock against the container by accident. Escaped crickets are well-nigh impossible to catch, and they could manage to infest the house if they somehow managed to make a break for it while you were away for a week or two. If that did happen, not to worry, they would be annoying to deal with but certainly would not do any damage to the house or anything in it, not even the food.

Ants: Some people consider ants a real feast. Black ants have a slightly sweet taste when eaten raw; if you boil ants, the formic acid which they contain gets boiled out.

Beetles: Beetles account for about 40% of the world’s known insects; in some of the species, the fat and protein content of their larvae is exceptionally high – and these larvae have great flavor as well.

Wasps and Bees: Pound these creatures first, and then boil them for a considerable amount of time. Their poison is a protein, and when the bees or wasps are boiled, the poison is broken down and the stinger is softened.  The larvae are edible as well.