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Pass The Mealworms, Please

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Lee Pitts

Warning! Do not read this column if you are about to eat or have just eaten. It may cause headache, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, bloating and nausea.

Professors at Wonkwang University in South Korea are testing ways to replace beef with meat made from mealworms. Baked or fried mealworms are now eaten in a few countries as snacks, although I don’t think we will be seeing Mealworm Doritos at the next Super Bowl party, nor can I see people picking through the peanuts for mealworms as if they were cashews in Planters Trail Mix.

This story raises several troubling questions. First, if you were a doctor would you hang your diploma on the wall if you graduated from a place called Wonkwang University? And what the heck is a mealworm anyway?

I’m glad you asked. A mealworm is the larval stage of the yellow mealworm beetle, and they do have a brain. Mealworms were the first organisms to circle the moon back in 1968, which has been described as “one small step for mealworms.” They are successfully being raised in labs and also in people’s unkempt houses. They are said to love Cheerios, but then, who doesn’t?

One problem scientists ran into is the inbreeding which occurs in a lab really hurts the female’s sex appeal and is a real turn-off to male mealworms. They are commonly used to feed reptiles and birds and are also used for fish bait. So, in this brave new world of the future are we now going to be reduced to eating fish bait? Really?

If you want to eat a few, I recommend looking up Bassetts Cricket Ranch where you can get 1,000 mealworms for only $15.99. Bassetts got high marks for their mealworms, although one online critic described them as “putrid, smelly and terrible,” and another said, “If you’re easily grossed out they may not be for you.”

Mealworms are nocturnal, gregarious creatures and are mostly vegetarian but do occasionally go off their diet and eat each other. The cannibals also feed on dead or dying birds and can pass along salmonella, E. coli and numerous other diseases that could threaten your life if you eat too many. 

If ranchers have the stomach for it, they can get a good look at their competition on the Internet. To me, mealworms look like a bunch of disgusting maggots at an orgy, crawling all over each other.

One thing mealworms can do that cows haven’t shown an aptitude for yet is they can eat plastic. That’s right, they can digest polystyrene which is a thermoplastic substance and get this, mealworms taste exactly the same whether they’ve been fed Cheerios or a diet of plastic.

In order to feed the ever-growing mass of humanity on Earth, it’s been suggested cattle ranchers could easily transition into mealworm ranchers and admittedly, I can see some advantages. 

You wouldn’t have to be constantly worried about a drouth. Mealworms require little in the way of fencing. They have few, if any, difficult births, and even if they were hard calvers, who cares? After all, the lady mealworm can give birth to over 500 offspring during her short life, which is more than one can say about the average cow. And, if you threw a bunch of empty plastic bottles off the feed truck instead of expensive hay, I’m pretty sure the cows wouldn’t eat it.

I have doubts about this entire mealworm-as-human-food concept though, and I can’t see ranchers selling their cows to buy mealworms instead.

First of all, I doubt the mealworms would survive the branding. Instead of cowboy poets descending every year on Elko, I doubt we will hear from mealworm poets. After all, what rhymes with mealworms? I wonder, will there be a Mealworm Checkoff and will the Cowboy Hall of Fame be expanded to include the lowly mealworm?

South Korean scientists know Americans would never willingly eat mealworms, so they suggest a sneaky approach in which the worms could be hidden in savory seasonings “as a way to change consumers’ minds.” They suggest using mealworms as condiments in the same way we use salt and pepper. 

Can’t you just imagine someone at a dinner party saying, “Please pass the salt and the mealworms.” Or, a chef tasting his latest creation and saying, “Um, I think it needs a pinch more worms.”

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