How I almost ate a worm.

September 25, 2006 | By | 10 Replies More

Worms are fascinating critters.  There’s no getting around it.  Or maybe they’ve just seemed fascinating, ever since I first read Gary Larson’s hilarious 1999 book, There’s a hair in my dirt!  A Worm’s Story. 

Now, though, worms have made it to the big screen.  Last week I took my two young children to a movie called “How to Eat Fried Worms.”  We all enjoyed the movie, which provided some lessons on eating earthworms, as well as a lesson or two on getting along.  Click here for more information on the movie, which features a large cast of youngsters, along with Tom Cavanagh and Kimberly Williams.

There’s an interesting side story here. I was surprised that the book on which the movie is based has been the target of censors

Because of the novel’s content, the idea of eating worms as part of a bet is thought to be disgusting by some, it has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at number ninety six.

Amazing, eh?  But back to the main topic of my post. I’d like to tell you the story about how I ate worms . . . but I can’t.  I didn’t even come close. 

Watching “How to Eat Fried Worms” reminded me of the time I was visiting Guangzhou, China in 2001 with my wife and our newly adopted daughter.  We were traveling with a large group of adoptive parents, accompanied also by a translator who recommended that we eat at a very nice restaurant in town.  I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but I do remember that you could choose from a wide variety of dishes, including some specialties involving worms and bugs.  In fact, the live worms and bugs were on display at the front of the restaurant.  You could pick out the worms and bugs (or snakes or lobsters or other critters) and the chefs would then prepare them. 

Here’s a photo I took at the time.

worm and bug restaurant.jpg

As you can see, customers could select worms, beetle-looking bugs and other types of bugs.  I really wanted to try out some of these exotic foods, but there was absolutely no one in my group that was encouraging me. In fact, the suggestion that I might eat anything out of the ordinary was met with horror and gasps.  I remember looking at my wife for encouragement.  She didn’t try to dissuade me, but she gave me a look I interpreted as “do you expect me to ever kiss you again if I have to watch you eating worms?”   Bottom line:  I wimped out.  We did order a deep-fried pidgeon, which was presented with its head still on.  Yes, it tasted like chicken. 

While sitting in that restaurant that night, I remembered something a friend named Tim once told me: Morality starts with what one puts in one’s mouth.

You know, worms are truly wonderful creatures:

Toiling out of sight, they are indeed miniature plows, tunneling passageways that carry air and water deep underground.  Darwin calculated that over a decade, the worms on an acre of soil could create a layer of nutrient-rich droppings, known as castings, about 2 inches thick. 

Watching the movie and reminiscing about that Chinese restaurant made me wonder how easy it would be to prepare worms for direct eating (not indirect eating, where you have the fish eat the worm, then you eat the fish).  I found a recipe for “earthworm chow” here.  Here’s how you do it:

Wash earthworms thoroughly and place in boiling water for three minutes. Pour off water and repeat the boiling process twice. Bake on cookie sheet at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes. Roll the worms in flour, brown in butter, add salt to taste. Add bouillon and simmer for 30 minutes. Saute onions and mushrooms in butter. Add onions and mushrooms to the worms. Stir in sour cream or yogurt. Serve over rice or noodles.

Here’s another plug for earthworm cuisine:

Earthworms have received considerable attention in the press recently as an excellent and potentially economical source of human food. From all accounts, they are a nutritious addition to human diets. Besides being high in protein, they are entirely edible, with no bone or gristle to throw away, and their subtle, earthy flavour lends itself well to all sorts of delightful dishes.

This article suggests that you let your worms graze on special food to optimize their taste:  “To achieve a smooth taste, feed them a meal (oatmeal, for example) or organic material for a few days.” 

Here’s an article that cautions that you need to clean your worms carefully before eating them.  “Otherwise, you will have a gritty, chewy string that most likely has spent its lifetime dining on a whole assortment of harmful chemicals put in the soil by humans.”  For legitimate health reasons, other sites have also suggested that you don’t want to just start sticking worms in your mouth.  Were you about to do that?

It’s funny how so many people tell you about how to prepare earthworms, but most never suggest that they have ever eaten any worms themselves.  Here’s a sample of that approach.

Ok, so you aren’t interested in eating worms.  Then you might be interested in moving upscale, to something like sautéed maggot If I ever do get up the nerve to eat some worms, I’ll enthusiastically update this post. Until then, I’m destined only to dream of what could have been that night in Guangzhou.

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Category: American Culture, Films, Food

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Why we should eat insects. | Dangerous Intersection | December 8, 2010
  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Years ago, one of the TV "reality" shows (Road Rules, on MTV) aired an episode in which the participants were sent to a culinary school for their "challenge." The boys and girls were split into separate teams and each team prepared a gourmet meal for the other. The girls prepared a traditional meal for the boys, while the boys, unbeknownst to the girls, prepared a meal using insects as the main ingredient for each dish. The boys videotaped their preparation, so they could show it to the girls *after* the girls had eaten their meal. Before discovering the secret, the girls were generous with their praise of the boys' efforts, but that mood quickly changed after they saw the video.

    Indeed, many people around the world have a diet that regularly includes food items that do not appear on any Western menu. Similarly, the reverse is also true. In some places, people consider cows milk to be totally disgusting and would never consider drinking a glass of it or pouring it on cereal for breakfast.

    Speaking of breakfast, I once read an article in an airline travel magazine (the ones you find in the seat pocket) which observed that breakfast is the one meal of the day in which most people around the world (no matter where they are from) don't want to experiment with exotic foods. They might sample worms (or cow's milk) for lunch or dinner, but breakfast is the one meal in which most people don't wander very far from their usual routines. Perhaps, in our distant evolutionary past, breakfast was the most important meal of the day — the meal that fueled that day's hunting and gathering — so humans simply could not afford to have a queasy stomach from an unusual meal.

  2. isabel says:

    I was on a "local" fear factor in Utah county and I ate live worms, I wonder if they are dead by now? how long can they live inside your tummy? YUCK! I think I can feel them crawling around!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    At the risk of having this look like an obsession, here is a web site where you can buy all kinds of real bugs to eat. http://www.realcooltoys.com/realediblebugs.html Truly, I looked this up at the request of one of my daughters.

  4. I just got up. What a nice article in the morning to read… 😀 After Erich's mouthwatering tale I just imagined sticking moist squirming worms in my mouth – thank you Erich. 😀

    I have never eaten maggots either, but I heard they taste like nuts? Also, supposedly, insects have a high protein content and have the potential to resolve some food problems if you were willing to include them in your daily menu.

    I also found grumpy's report on the boys and girls quite interesting. Men are sometimes also little worms. 😀

  5. Vicki Baker says:

    Erich: Have you ever seen the book Man Eating Bug? Our neighbor, who is a chef, gave it to us when he moved. I guess he decided he would never actually use any of the recipes. I can't locate it just now but if I find any good serving suggestions for creepy -crawlies I will let you know.

    Also, I have heard people around here praising the delicate flavor of huitlacoche AKA corn smut, AKA maize mushroom.

  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    I checked the website Erich cited and was surprised to see some of the items were "Sold Out." How can this be? Are there really so many people eating bugs and spiders that there is now a shortage?

    What we need is a nice recipe for mosquitos, so we can return the favor of what they do to us.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's more on how to eat insects, including recipes. http://alternet.org/story/73621/

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    Man Eating Bugs, the book:<img src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51KYK32D84L._SL500_AA240_.jpg&quot; alt="Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects" />

    Vicki mentioned it last year, but a picture is worth a kilobyte.

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