The first time Tim Herbute ate a bug, it wasn't the most voluntary experience. He remembers being younger, on a camping trip, when a friend instigated him to eat a cricket. He did - he says he's always been open minded.
These days, the 21-year-old Vineland resident prefers his crickets oven-roasted, between two crackers with a little bit of honey.
"They have an almond kind of taste," he said. "And I just enjoy the taste of honey." Another buggy favorite of his is mealworm quesadillas, roasted larvae scattered on top of oozy cheese and sandwiched between tortillas.
Grossed out? The practice of eating bugs - or entomophagy, if the term isn't too big a mouthful - is getting more and more popular in the United States, although it's been a necessity in other countries around the world for ages.
Herbute and 15 to 20 of his classmates at Stockton University are part of the local chapter of EDIBL, or Environmental Discourses on the Ingestion of Bugs League, established on the Galloway Township campus in 2011. The national group and other entomophagy advocates promote eating insects not only for the fear factor, but as a sustainable, healthy, green-food movement.
Jamie Cromartie, an associate professor of entomology at Stockton and the faculty advisor for EDIBL, said there are some obstacles to get over before bug eating comes into the mainstream. Sustainable insect farms, or other ways to develop and control edible bug populations, can be started and can have a smaller carbon footprint than cattle farms.
But the biggest hurdle, he said, is people's perception. Herbute agreed.
"It's a great life choice, but it's not considered mainstream. It's a little out there," said Herbute, the president of the Stockton EDIBL chapter. "Some bigger cities, like Philly and Washington D.C., they've got places that serve insects."
If you're interested in trying insects for yourself, Herbute has some advice:
Do your research
During the school year, Herbute says he and the other club members invest in 2-pound bags of crickets and mealworms for between $20 and $30 from the Aspire Food Group in Texas. They're college kids on a budget, after all. At club functions and various outreach efforts, they'll serve roasted insects to curious students.
It's essential to find groups like Aspire Food Group that have already vetted their edible insects as safe and tasty.
Also, Herbute said it's not wise to dig through the garden or the yard unless you know the bug you're about to chomp on is safe to eat.
"Around here, we stay away from certain bugs because some species are poisonous," he said. "It's better to get your bugs specifically to be eaten by people."
Here are some recipes Herbute and other members of EDIBL compiled into a cookbook. If you're interested in the book, you can email the group at email@example.com.
Not all recipes call for whole insects, either. Sometimes flour is made from dried mealworms or crickets that can be used in baking.
As with introducing most new foods into a diet, Herbute recommends making insects part of a balanced diet with "regular" protein sources.
You might already be eating bugs already without knowing it
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlines the maximum levels of "natural or unavoidable defects" in food, which include pieces of insects.
Yup, there could be pieces of bugs in the food you already eat.
The FDA doesn't point this out to scare consumers: According to the website for the Defect Levels Handbook, the defects in the food don't pose a health hazard.
Herbute pointed out specific common foods on this list that can have a specific amount of bug bits:
Chocolate: An average of 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams of chocolate, when 6 100-gram pieces are examined.
Peanut butter: An average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams of the creamy stuff.
Pasta: An Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams of subsamples.
You should be eating bugs. Here's why.