For several years, I have been writing essays about domesticating insects as an ecological protein source that could support the expected needs of a global population of nine plus billion humans. Since developing nations are following the Western model with its large and frequent portions of beef and pork, which not only emit methane but also tax freshwater supplies to raise grain to feed them, it is crucial to establish now the infrastructure for cultivating more sustainable species. But we do not eat according to reason alone. We eat to please our palates and to commune with friends and loved ones. Food choices are one of our earliest adoptions of culture and can remain consistent throughout life—but most Americans don’t yet have comforting associations with popcorn beetles, mealworm tacos, and any number of other dishes including edible insects. I wanted in “THIHACOIAAGT” to help change that by offering some of my stories and familiarity with entomophagy.
What surprised me in writing this essay, which began during a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts residency in my home state, was that it developed a spiritual component. I began raising mealworms in the laundry room of my one-bedroom apartment, curious whether I could farm them the way my parents rear cattle. Growing up to eat beef raised on land devoted to feeding them, I know that there are conscionable and unconscionable ways to cultivate livestock. Tending my little herd made me want to share how participation in our food supply could be uplifting and proactive, if done with respect for what fosters all life.
Watching mealworms cross their oat fields reminded me of contemplative girlhood hours staring into the branches of the hickory tree outside my bedroom window. With its canopy overhead and roots extending below ground, it inspired me to examine the origins of the Tree of Life and how cosmogonies unwound from that axis mundi. From there, an organizational structure followed that was part happy chance, part research hours.
As I also write poetry, many of my transitions are metaphorical. At a certain point I embraced the lyric form as the best way to organize associations. Poetry also helped me articulate moral impulses in non-religious terms. “We sprang from the oak,” Czeslaw Milosz says, drawing attention toward shared foundations rather than divergent beliefs. Plus, poetry’s boldness helped me dare readers toward the highest ideals we are currently capable of imagining, even as Solomon’s Shamir, that animal marvel which heralds peace, gives readers another way to imagine adding these creatures to their diets.