Cicadas Are What's for Dinner — But One Bug Lover Isn't Happy

An event planned for the Butterfly House brought out a passionate advocacy effort for the insects

May 20, 2024 at 6:07 am
Yes, you can eat cicadas, and the Butterfly House recently offered a demonstration of how.
Yes, you can eat cicadas, and the Butterfly House recently offered a demonstration of how. PHOTO BY ZACHARY LINHARES
This Friday, the Missouri Botanical Garden will be doing something sure to shock the conscience of every good St. Louisan: They'll be showing how to serve up cicadas.

The cicada scampi and spicy deep-fried cicada — yes, those are the actual dish names — will be part of an cooking demonstration at MoBOT's Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House, a fun afternoon inspired by the cicadapocalypse now blanketing a big swath of St. Louis County with the long-gestating bugs.

But not everyone finds the idea so fun. In fact, one local put it upon themselves to try to stop the culinary demonstration.

In a series of emails forwarded to the RFT by one of the many (many!) people CCed on them, this lone cicada warrior sought to make the case that eating bugs was beyond the pale — not because they're gross, but because they can feel pain just like any living creature. "I'd do anything to stop this awful destruction of our nature," wrote the anonymous advocate. "They aren't bothering me or anyone bc I don't bother them and nobody else will unless we have manager of Butterfly House insisting on a cruel needless heartless eating them event. Cicadas are chill they like trees [sic], they're like frogs croaking you just live with it they're talking mating that's nature coexist [sic] and they just here for a minute."

The writer added, "The cicadas are not insignificant they have such amazing process of thoughts and feelings I have pulled out from dog water bowl couple times and you see their appreciation they have the most tight amazing little grip with their teeny claws like he held on and they look right at you. They are beautiful intricate."

We're not sure we'd use "beautiful" to describe the little buggers, but de gustibus non est disputandum. And we'll grant the cicada-loving activist this: They certainly do have short life spans.

Asked about the potential controversy, MoBOT spokeswoman Catherine Martin told us Friday they have not heard from others who feel the same way. She also notes that MoBOT is taking steps to shield the insect ingredients from pain: "Cicadas will be euthanized humanely before being cooked. The team will collect the cicadas and put them in a freezer. Since they are cold-blooded animals, the freezer temperature causes them to fall asleep and then pass away without pain. We never cook cicadas while they are still alive." Would that lobsters could say the same!

It's worth noting that factory farming causes far more pain to animals that are far more sentient than cicadas (and, obviously, some people have made it their life's work to try to stop those practices). Some animal lovers have suggested insects may be a better solution than, say, our current practices involving chickens. Notes Martin, "Eating insects is a common practice worldwide. The UN estimates that 2 billion people routinely eating insects, and humans consume more than 1,900 species of insects as food. Insects as human food provide protein, vitamins and minerals and are vastly more sustainable than other animal protein sources."

One last note while we consider the cicada: If you're allergic to shellfish, you may well be allergic to these insects, too, since they are in fact closely related. Forget their "teeny claws" — that might be a great reason to proceed with caution towards that supper of cicada scampi.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained the wrong date for the cooking demonstration. It takes place Friday, May 24. We regret the error.

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