Last Friday, a meat clerk at the Noe Valley Whole Foods told KRON 4 that he had recently discovered some unwanted visitors in the store: 40 maggots. Though the store quickly went into crisis control mode, telling the San Francisco Department of Public Health that, in fact, there had only been one maggot (which had never been in contact with the meat) it still got us thinking.
Why not sell and eat maggots?
Turns out that they very well could. It depends on the kind of maggot, and where it was living, says David Gracer, who once cooked a meal of bugs for Stephen Colbert. But in general, he says, "maggots are edible." Gracer, a community college writing instructor, is one of a new crop of food thinkers trying to convince the world to give bugs a try.
He admits that maggots might be a tough sell. "We associate them with decay and putrefaction," he says, "but although we have power atavistic feelings about them, they recycle matter. They bring life out of death."
The trick, says Gracer, is to raise the maggots—the first form of the fly—into pupa. "I've crushed those up and eaten them over rice," he says. "It tasted like blood pudding."
One of the best insect cooks, apparently, is Louis Sorkin, a scientist at the Natural History Museum in New York City. "One time I took some sarcophagic larva and made a ceviche," he says. "It took about a week to cook in the citric acid." He, like Gracer, stresses that the safety of eating maggots depends on where they are living—rotting meat is better than sewage for instance—and on the specific type of insect. "If you raise them in a lab situation," says Sorkin, "maggots would be good. Crickets are at the top though."
That's a point of view shared by Gabi Lewis, whose company Exo makes protein bars out of cricket flour. He's less bullish on a mass market maggot. "We're trying to create a well-packaged aspirational insect food product," he says. "Any kind of negative association is going to be detrimental." His company, which currently sells online and in some New York City retail locations (though not Whole Foods), went so far as to bring in a chief from London's three Michelin star restaurant The Fat Duck. "The cricket," says Lewis, "is the polar oppposite of the maggot. It's the smallest possible psychological leap."
Lewis probably isn't wrong—but that doesn't change the basic answer. Maggots might not be the next acai berry, but maybe it's time to take another look. "As things get tougher and tougher," says Gracer, "insects are going to look very good."