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Bugs! It's what's for dinner.

At least that's the pitch that the University of Minnesota Entomology Department will be making at an event this Saturday, the Great Minnsect Show, that will give the public a chance to meet, greet and eat some bugs.

The free event, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the university's St. Paul Student Center, will feature live insects, insect games, insect-themed gifts, insect crafts and a chance to meet insect experts. But also: insect treats and snacks.

Eating insects can be good for you and good for the environment, according to Prof. Sujaya Rao, the head of the university's entomology department. She recently gave a TEDx Minneapolis talk titled "Why we should all eat bugs."

Here's what she told us about the pros and cons of bug consumption. The interview was edited for space and clarity.

Q: Why should we all be eating bugs?

A: In 2050, there's going to be over 9 billion people on the planet. What are we going to do about food? There will be more people, but fewer places to raise food because the people are going to need places to live.

Q: Are bugs good for you?

A: People started looking at insects, saying they really have high protein. It's not just protein. There's all these other nutritional benefits of eating insects. Insects have iron and calcium and all the amino acids. The exoskeleton is supposed to help the probiotic bacteria in the gut. Also, it's fibrous: good fiber.

Q: And it's good for the planet?

A: When you raise cattle, you get a lot more greenhouse gases and ammonia compared to when you raise insects. Insects are also very efficient in converting feed into food. They need a lot less space. You can raise insects vertically. So you need less space, they're efficient, they're high-protein. It seems like a win-win-win.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to getting people to eat insects?

A: People think of them as being dirty and yucky. It's really a social perception. We get socialized from childhood. If a little kid is playing with a bug on the ground, we say, "Don't put it in your mouth."

But when we are raising them as food, in Western societies, they're obviously going to be raised in very clean, sanitary conditions, because [otherwise] they will not pass all the regulatory aspects in the U.S., for instance. Insects are not likely to transmit diseases to humans, like say, mad cow disease. At least we don't believe that, because they are so far separated from us taxonomically. So there's less risk there.

Worldwide, people have been eating insects for centuries, in over 100 countries, over 2,000 species of insects. So it's not a new idea. It's new for the Western world.

University of Minnesota entomology professor Sujaya Rao eating a mealworm.
University of Minnesota entomology professor Sujaya Rao eating a mealworm.

Q: What would you recommend? What is your favorite insect to eat?

A: It depends on where you're eating it. If you are having a beer somewhere, then spicy crickets would be good. They're crunchy. They would be equivalent to eating nuts. A lot of times when I'm giving talks, I make cricket brownies. You're adding sugar and chocolate. You can't go wrong. You can get crickets ground up as a powder and make pretty much anything that you can make with flour: tortillas, bread, cookies and brownies. You're not seeing the insects. It's all ground up. You can't actually taste it.

Q: Are there insects you wouldn't eat?

A: If there's insects with venom in them, those should be avoided. There are insects which have hair on the body that can give a rash or something. Those things should be avoided. You have to kind of figure out how much benefit you're going to get. You think about a grub. That's a nice chunky piece of meat. Think about some beetles that have a lot of wings and hard structures. You may not get as much meat, but then you will get a kind of nutty, crunchy feeling, which is good.

Q: What about these cicadas much of the country will be seeing soon?

A: Yes, cicadas are edible. They're better eaten soon after they emerge from the ground and before they cast their skin and emerge as adults. They can be eaten as adults, too, but some may not like the wings — though they will taste nutty.

The cast skin is just chitin [a fibrous exoskeleton] and can be eaten, too. It won't have a lot of other nutrients. I haven't witnessed this yet but I have heard that birds and other predators have a feast when the cicada broods emerge!