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Would you like some crickets with that hot dog?

Melinda Waldrop //June 5, 2018//

Would you like some crickets with that hot dog?

Melinda Waldrop //June 5, 2018//

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Few things are as quintessentially American as noshing on a hot dog at a baseball game.

But Columbia Fireflies fans in the mood to spice things up a bit this summer have another option available to them: crickets.

Terminix Service Inc. is teaming with the Class A Mets affiliate to provide samples of barbecue-flavored crickets at three Fireflies home games this summer, beginning Sunday. Terminix will also provide the free, packaged crickets on July 22 and Aug. 12 at a kiosk bearing the somewhat oxymoronic name “Terminix Tasties” where those with gastrointestinal gumption can pose for pictures.

“We’re excited about it,” Fireflies vice president of corporate partnerships Blake Buchanan said. “It’s something unique we can offer fans that’s going to be a little bit different. We’ll see how it goes, see what kind of reaction we get.”

The idea of edible insects has cropped up elsewhere — toasted chapulines, a Mexican grasshopper, are popular at the Seattle Mariners’ ballpark, and the Atlanta Hawks began selling roasted crickets in 2017. But although 2 billion people worldwide regularly eat insects, the idea remains off-putting to American palates.

Marie Boyd, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who studies entomophagy, or the human consumption of insects, thinks more research could change that.

Boyd said the Food and Drug Administration focuses on regulating insects as defects — limiting, for example, the maximum number of insect fragments that can be contained in a certain amount of chocolate.

“But there isn’t a lot the FDA has said about insects in the food context, and there’s not that similar body of law about insects as food,” she said. “Culturally, we don’t tend to think about (insects) as food, and I’m really interested in this link and relationship between the law and culture. … If you had a formal recognition by FDA that insects are food, that could help change some of the culture and lead to more research and development.”

Boyd pointed to the popularity of sushi as an illustration of how perceptions of food have evolved in the U.S., and she said there are arguments to be made for a similar Western warming to insects. As a growing world population demands more food, insect cultivation would have less of an environmental impact than ramped-up meat production, she said.

“There are a lot of things that need to be explored,” Boyd said. “There is a lot of promise and potential for these products.”

Boyd has come across 2,000 different species of insects used for food, most frequently encountering crickets and mealworms.

“I’ve had cricket bars before,” she said. “You can have whole roasted insects or something that was ground up.”

Terminix, according to a news release, will be serving all-natural, smoky barbecue crickets “roasted to perfection” at Spirit Communications Park.

Kevin Hathorne, technical director at the exterminating company, said he’s tried variations of crickets before, and that “it’s basically like eating a potato chip. It’s really just about whatever seasoning that’s put on it, is what you taste.”

Hathorne, who is also an entomologist, said the idea to partner with the Fireflies sparked after he read an article detailing how the Mariners, who offer the chapulines regularly, have to hustle to meet demand for the crispy critters. Terminix has also had experience bringing bugs to the table, introducing children at Edventure Children’s Museum to cricket cookies, among other exotic fare (to mixed reviews).

“At Terminix, we’re kind of known for killing insects, but we also want to bring awareness that not all insects are bad,” Hathorne said. “We need insects, and they can be an important food source as well.”

Buchanan said news of the cricket cuisine has generated a buzz among Fireflies fans, and plans are afoot for a player to sample the distinctive delicacy in a local television spot.

“I don’t know if I’ll actually try any myself. I don’t know if I’m going to try to eat a bug,” said Buchanan, who has heard the crickets described as crunchy. “(But) they’re edible. We’re not doing “Fear Factor” here where they’re live and it’s wriggling when you put it down your throat.”