Commentary – Earthworm soup is always an option

Joe McWilliams

On May 18 it was raining steadily in Slave Lake. As I walked to work I saw the usual earthworm migration [or escape, or whatever it is] on the sidewalk. In some places it was littered with them and I had to take care to not crush any.

I’ve got nothing against the earthworm, and its chances of survival are lousy enough without me making them worse.

As usual, seeing all those worms got me thinking. What they are up to, for one thing.

And about worms as food!

On the former topic, opinions differ. It appears nobody knows for sure. Some experts [so-called] say they can’t handle the wet dirt [the worms, not the experts] and are seeking relief.

But that doesn’t really hold water and other experts have proposed that the wetness of the surface gives them an opportunity for rapid migration they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I guess it doesn’t matter. The worms are there, and there are certainly a lot of them.

It’s well enough known that people eat worms, as well as insects, in various places and cultures. One is in Venezuela, where after giving birth, Yekuana women eat nothing but worms and cassava for a month. The rest of the time, worms are just a regular part of the diet, heated in water or smoked.

If that doesn’t sound too appetizing, how about these offerings, from renowned ‘bug chef’ David George Gordon: ‘Superworm Tempura’ with plum dipping sauce, ‘Fried Green Tomato Hornworm’ and ‘Alphabait Soup.’

These are novelties, of course. Conversation pieces. But worms as a cheap source of protein is serious business in many parts of the world. So are insects, come to think of it, and both might become more important factors in the ever-developing struggle to feed billions of people on a small planet.

Or, for that matter, to feed livestock. Both are happening, on an industrial scale as well as very small-scale, traditional type of situations.

Cricket flour is produced right here in Canada, in fairly large quantities. Apparently, crickets convert whatever they eat into protein four or five times more efficiently than, say, your average beef cow. Alberta ranchers probably don’t like to hear this, but it’s a thing that is happening. If you can produce a lot of healthy food in a relatively small space for a fairly low cost…well, that’s obviously where the future lies.

Not that there won’t always been a market for good old home on the range Alberta beef. But the world’s population is what these, days…7.7 billion people in 2019? And growing!

There isn’t enough grassland in the world to feed the animals to feed all those people. So for at least a part of the world’s population, the future lies with efficient, intensive food production.

And it’s looking as if bugs and worms will be a big part of it. They already are in some places. Thailand has 20,000 cricket farmers, producing 7,500 tonnes of product annually.

Not to be outdone, a company in southern Ontario promotes itself as the world’s largest cricket farm, capable of producing a whopping 20,000 tonnes of cricket product per year.

Getting back to the lowly earthworm, I’m told it isn’t even native to the Prairies.

But we’re stuck with it, and it does do good things for the soil.

And it’s comforting to know if things ever get really hard, earthworm soup is always an option.

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