South students explore benefits of various bugs

South students explore benefits of various bugs

Bugs. Creepy, crawly, annoying bugs. Although they’ve got a bad reputation for ruining outdoor fun, students at South Williamsport Area School District’s Rommelt Elementary School have developed a new appreciation for the hard-working pests.

Each year, the fifth-grade team of teachers at the school hosts a special day for students, who have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of delicatessens. Tablecloths and flickering candles adorn the tables and each place is set with water and pretzels.

But when the first course is passed, it is an unusual sort of appetizer, and students must decide if they’d like to sample a black ant egg or pass for the next snack of mole crickets or superworms.

Language arts and social studies teacher Ashley Zielewicz has been hosting the day for four years and she said the reaction has always been positive, with the majority of students finding the experience to be enjoyable.

She said the idea came about in 2016, when classroom magazine Scholastic Scope included an article titled “Would You Eat This?” The article presented the question as to whether or not entomophagy could become popular in the United States.

“We use that article, our research and practical experience to write a persuasive essay as to whether or not restaurants should add insects to their menus,” Zielewicz said.

“Through their research, the kids discover that insects will be a more sustainable source of protein as our population continues to increase. They require fewer resources, less space and water and have minimal impact on our environment,” she added.

In fact, students also explore the benefits not just of bugs in their natural state, but of uses in baking and cooking, as well. Zielewicz prepares cookies at home, replacing half the flour with cricket flour, which gives the cookies a slightly darker color and different smell. The majority of the kids shared that they can’t taste the difference and the teacher was pleasantly surprised to hear some say that they were better than regular chocolate chip cookies.

“I want the kids to understand that eating insects is not just about eating insects in their original state and that cooking with cricket flour typically doesn’t change the taste of the product,” Zielewicz said. “Cooking with the cricket flour and trying the cricket flour chips and protein powder also offers those students who don’t have the courage to pop an entire insect in their mouth the opportunity to participate.”

But that’s precisely when the real fun begins. Although some students were excused from participating entirely by their parents, no student was required to sample anything that came their way. A simple “no, thank you” meant that they would pass on that round’s featured snack.

In addition to the black ant egg, mole crickets and superworms, students were offered silk and bamboo worms, queen weaver ants, grasshoppers, crickets, a giant water bug (this year’s biggest treat) and a forest scorpion (which someone did eat).

“In four years, I have only had one student who got sick, a little, but he continued on like a champion,” Zielewicz said. “Over the years, we’ve also had a few trips to the nurse for floss.”

There were no bellyaches this year; in fact, student Aiden Fioretti was able to share what he “liked” the best.

“I liked the black ant eggs because they didn’t taste like anything,” he said.

Mikaiya Hills, however, confirmed what she already knew.

“I learned that bugs were awful and looked disgusting,” she said. “I couldn’t get out of my mind that they were bugs to eat them.”

There were also students for whom the day changed their thoughts about bugs.

“Before bug day, I thought they would taste terrible, but on bug day, they actually weren’t that bad,” said Danica Bacorn.

Zielewicz has the insects shipped from a company in Thailand, while The Chirps Chips and Cricket Protein Powder is manufactured by an American company that was featured on Shark Tank in 2017. Although student Lacie Millard believes bugs could be the future of food in America because “they are high in protein, low in fat and provide more nutrients than regular food,” Zielewicz said there are hurdles that must be overcome before insects become a regularly consumed item in the United States.

“Over the four years we’ve been doing the program, we’ve seen a few more cricket farms pop up,” she said. “It’s hard to say what the future will hold, but I think it’s important to build an awareness of what alternate sources of protein exist.”