What was your first time eating insects like? For me, it was an act out of desperation and hopelessness. At the time, I had applied to 20 different universities, from Ivy Leagues to safety schools, hoping I would be admitted to at least one school. Just around when I received a letter from Cornell that my early application was deferred to regular decision, a friend of my mom’s reached out and sent a container of stir-fried grasshoppers.
To give you some context, my mom’s friends had been feeding their teenage children grasshoppers prior to hearing back from colleges. Apparently, in Korean culture, grasshoppers are an auspicious symbol of college acceptance. In fact, the kids had gotten into schools that were way out of their reach after eating the grasshoppers. Entrance into educational institutions has been and is one of the most important values in Korean society. Hence, many students and parents go to great lengths to get into their desired schools, such as bowing 108 times at a Buddhist temple, or in my case, eating grasshoppers.
Since I had never eaten insects, I reluctantly ate one grasshopper during winter break and put away the rest in the back of the fridge. Then spring break came around, and I was receiving multiple rejection letters every day. I felt as though I was not going to get into a school I liked and was disappointed that I could do nothing but sit and wait for the decisions.
However, one day, I realized that there was something I could do. I could eat grasshoppers. And maybe, the “god” of grasshoppers could get me into a decent college. So, I took the container of stir-fried grasshoppers, and sat on my bed, and ate them one by one. After eating about 20 of them, I ate them with kimchi, to give them a twist to the flavor. Finally, in one seating, I finished the entire container and had eaten about 50 grasshoppers. It was astonishing how I could barely eat one before, but when my desperation reached its peak, I could eat 50 single-handedly. Frankly, once I got used to the idea of eating grasshoppers, the taste was quite pleasant. They were delightfully crunchy and full of umami.
Did it work? Well, I am happy to tell you that I ended up being admitted to a couple of great schools, including my top choice. I like to believe that the “god” of grasshoppers gave me the extra push I needed. Two years later, I was looking for a summer internship and discovered Seek Food online. I became interested immediately because everything made so much sense. As a sociology major and someone who had eaten 50 grasshoppers, I knew that crickets can be a great protein source that is beneficial to both humans and the environment. Compelled by a strong sense of responsibility to break the stigma around eating-insects, I applied and am now writing this blog post.
Along with this Korean traditional luck hack, insects, such as silkworms, are a vital part of the Korean culinary culture. Despite the stigma that developed over the past decades, Korea is expanding its insect industry by incorporating edible insects into popular food products as well as restaurants. The Korean government has been re-introducing insects into the Korean diet, and many people are becoming more open to eating insects because of the nutritional and environmental benefits.
I learned from my personal experience that stigma can easily be broken with determination and purpose. Today, there are so many reasons why we should eat insects and if we shift our narrative only slightly towards eating insects, we can bring positive and sustainable changes to the current eating culture. Eating insects is not a realm of the unknown and hopefully, my anecdote can show you that it has historical and cultural roots. On a side note, if you are an anxious prospective student waiting to hear back from institutions, I advise you to go out and find some grasshoppers.
Author: Avery Jeon