NEW JERSEY - "I’ve definitely taken on the role at school as the bug guy," 16-year-old Princeton High School junior Matthew Livingston said. "A lot of people call me The Cicada King.
The Cicada King of Princeton, New Jersey, Livingston founded the Princeton High Bug-Eating Club in 2020, knighting the school’s research program teacher, Mark Eastburn, as the group’s advisor.
"I wouldn’t say I was a very avid bug-eater before the bug-eating club got started," Eastburn said.
And with the exception of 17-year-old Mulin Huan ("Hey, maybe it’s going to be a good opportunity for us to get some supplemental proteins," Huan said), maybe not shockingly, Princeton High’s Bug-Eating Club struggled to enlist many avid new members. That is until billions of Brood X cicadas crawled out of the ground in more than a dozen eastern states this spring (1.5 million per acre in some places), as they do every 17 years for at least the last 5,000 centuries.
"They have a very bland taste," Huan said, "almost like peas or beans."
"I think they taste pretty good," Livingston said.
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Yes, for the last three weeks Livingston, Huan and Eastburn have collected ("I’ve basically just been going around the block and catching them," Livingston said.), frozen and boiled these bugs ("We make sure they don’t have any butt fungus or anything wrong with them," Livingston said.), roasted them, covered them in chocolate, baked them into breads, brownies and cookies, and shared them with friends, classmates and family members, hosting a cicada tasting for 30 new bug-eaters unsure if they’d just agreed to nibble on a winged delicacy or ingest some potion concocted by Macbeth’s Three Witches incarnate.
"I’ve had a lot of my teachers try it," Huan said.
"Exposure therapy, right?" Livingston said.
After 20 minutes with these three bug chefs, one starts to believe chatting about insect recipes while snacking on locusts is a regular thing one does.
"There's a really beautiful spectrum of insect consumption around the world, much more common around the equator," Montclair State University Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dr. Cortni Borgerson said.
Dr. Borgerson called cicadas a sustainable food crop, high in protein, low in fat with some added fiber from their exoskeletons.
"They're like a little porky, meaty kind of toasty, nutty," she said. "They’re a very easy entry insect to eat."
Dr. Borgerson also practices what she preaches we eat from our bug nets, serving all kinds of creepy crawlies to her own children.
"The kids are a little less excited about things like meal worms," she said.
"They are a great great food source for the future," Livingston said of insects.
And this is where the Princeton High Bug-Eating Club hopes the conversation hatched by its cicada smorgasbord leads, to a sustainable solution to feed the world without the greenhouse gas emissions of beef or pork or chicken.
"This is just kind of the introduction into insect-eating," Eastburn said.
Especially since a few weeks from our June 16 interview, these billions of cicadas will all be dead and this insect-eating club of high schoolers will have to wait another 17 years to sample a Brood X bug.
"If you deep fry them in oil," Huan said, "without anything added, they kind of taste like sunflower seeds."
"If it’s just me and my family eating bugs, you’re not really going to get a huge change in the community," Livingston said.