On Saturday, October 8, Mondo Taco in Santa Monica will host a “Pestaurant.” Their co-host: Western Exterminator Company. Offering a menu of “Thai Mai Mealworm Salad,” “Jamaican Me Hoppy Jerk-Seasoned Grasshoppers with Pineapple Salsa,” “Deep South BBQ Beetle Tacos” and “Rice Cricket Treats,” among other items, the collaboration is a food bank fundraiser and a culinary experiment.
Eating bugs, or entomophagy, has become more popular in the United States in the last few years. This is probably largely due to a widely-publicized report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that said eating insects could reduce pollution (less methane!) and increase the nutritional quality of many people's food. According to the report, crickets consume 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens, and yet, ounce for ounce, produce the same amount of protein. Bugs — again, especially crickets — also have a lot of those “good fats” we hear so much about, plus calcium, iron, B vitamins, selenium and zinc. And, out of the 1.1 million species of insects in the world that we know about, at least 1,700 are edible.
Still, it's a hard sell. Many Westerners simply do not want to think about eating bugs, as good for them — and the planet — as it may be. Perhaps that's why protein bars made with cricket flour (that's just ground-up bugs) are trendy business, with at least three companies (Exo, Chapul, Jungle) all making a go of it.
There is hope in some quarters that we may get into eating whole bugs yet. Frankly, L.A. is a good playground for the idea, as we are an international city with big Thai, Korean and Oaxacan populations: all cultures that do not look askance at throwing back some insects.
Still, it is a bit odd to think of an exterminator getting into the food game. But that is what Western Exterminator is doing this weekend at Mondo Taco in Santa Monica. The company with the iconic “Little Man” sign, founded in 1921, apparently just wants to raise awareness and give proceeds to charity.
Eric Rimiller, a vice president at Western Exterminator, says that he thinks of bug-eating as an externsion of the farm-to-table culinary movement. But, when asked if he worried about people being too grossed out to eat bugs provided by his company, what with the extermination associations, Rimiller deflected the question. But he did say he's not worried about bug-eating putting him out of business. “Bugs produced for consumption are very different than the pests we eliminate. Western Exterminator is confident no one will be sourcing insects from their own homes any time soon!”
Saturday, Oct. 8, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. 1300 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 310-8922, mondotaco.com.