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Why not eat insects, by Vincent M. Holst (1885) Part 3 cont

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In attempting to reconcile the popular taste to the consumption of this same order in its larval stage as "caterpillars," a more difficult task perhaps awaits me. But why? I never could thoroughly understand the intense disgust with which the appearance at the dinner-table of a well-boiled caterpillar, accidentally served with cabbage, is always greeted. The feeling is purely one of habit, and the outcome of unjust prejudice. These delicate, shuddering people, who now, with appetites gone, push away their plates upon the appearance of a well-cooked vegetable-fed caterpillar, have probably just swallowed a dozen live oysters; or they may have partaken of the foul-feeding lobster, and are perhaps pleasantly anticipating the arrival of a dish of ungutted woodcock! I have pointed out before that we have Dr. Darwin's authority that the caterpillars of the sphinx moths, as eaten by the Chinese, are very palatable; and another traveller has told us that he found the caterpillars eaten by the Hottentots tasted like almond paste. Of course, in choosing caterpillars for eating, it is necessary to discriminate between those feeding on poisonous and non-poisonous plants; but there is no more difficulty in this than in distinguishing between the edible and poisonous in berries or fungi.

The caterpillar pests swarming in our kitchen gardens, which might with advantage be collected for food, are really too numerous to be fully described here, but I will point out a few of the best; at the same time calling attention to the fact that they all feed upon the wholesome vegetables which we cultivate for our own eating. To begin, the large white cabbage butterfly (Pontia brassica) is one of our most familiar butterflies. Its caterpillar, when full-grown, is one and a half inches in length, and, owing to its unpleasant habit of living upon his cabbages, of which it usually leaves nothing but skeleton leaves, is too well known to every gardener. It is of a greenish colour upon the back, yellow underneath, striped with yellow along the back and sides, spotted all over with black, and covered more or less with tiny hairs. Miss Eleanor Ormerod (Manual of Injurious Insects) says, with reference to these pests, "Hand-picking the caterpillars is a tedious remedy, but where there is no great extent of ground, it is advisable as a certain cure."

This effectual remedy would no longer be looked upon as tedious if the fruits of the picking were to form a dish for the gardener's dinner, or appear in the menu of his mistress as "Larvae Pontiae a l'Hottentot." Again she says, "When the first brood of caterpillars are full-grown, and have disappeared from the cabbages in early summer, they have left them to turn to chrysalids in any sheltered nook near, and may be collected in large numbers by children for a trifle per hundred. They may be chiefly found in outhouses, potting-sheds, and the like places, in every neglected corner, under rough stairs, step-ladders, or beams or shelves, or fastened against rough stone walls or mortar." Why should we not imitate the Chinese, who, as I have stated, eat the chrysalids of silkworms?


Silkworms feed on the mulberry, lettuce, etc.; these caterpillars upon the homely cabbage. Let us, then, cast aside our foolish prejudice, and delight in chrysalids fried in butter, with yolk of eggs and seasoning, or "Chrysalids a la Chinoise."

The foregoing remarks apply equally to the small white cabbage butterfly (Pontia, rapae), whose caterpillars are smaller, of a green colour, and velvety, having a stripe of yellow along the back, and spots of the same colour along the sides.

Sticking still to cabbage, we next have the. cabbage moth {Mamestra brassicae), whose caterpillar is perhaps more generally known as a forward intruder at table than any other. The larva is about an inch and a half in length, varies a great deal in colour, from dirty flesh to green, and is smooth and naked-looking. Its constant habit of gnawing right down into the heart of any cabbage or cauliflower attacked renders it a great nuisance in the garden, and also accounts for its frequent, and at present uninvited, appearance in a boiled state at the dinner-table.

It was the accident of his house and pigstye being burnt to the ground that first introduced the flavour of the luscious, but unclean, pig to the celestial Chinamen. Let these minor accidental appearances at table make us acquainted with the flavour of the clean and wholesome caterpillar, and let not the silent appeal be in vain of these martyrs, who invite us to profit by their martyrdom. Let us not, with a shudder, hide the evidence of their sacrifice under a temporary shroud of vegetable, but rather let us welcome these pioneers of future delicacies with smiles and open arms.

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