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A Bug's Life

 I’m tired of eating bugs.

No, I am not a cast member of a new and disgusting reality show and I am not promoting a revolutionary weight loss diet. I am a runner and the dirty little secret that most runners harbor is that we often swallow, gag on and masticate bugs while on our runs.

There are times when I feel like my teeth are like the grill on a ‘65 Cadillac after a cross country drive on Route 66. For a variety of reasons, predominately because I have the aerobic capacity of a blubberous sea lion, I often run with my mouth open as to not asphyxiate, but in doing so I provide a bullseye for any unsuspecting gnat, fruit fly, mosquito or other small winged creature desiring to navigate my alimentary canal.

If you will indulge my math, let me illustrate why this creepy crawly consumption poses a problem. I have been running for 31 years and during that time I would conservatively estimate that I would average being on the roads three times a week. That’s 156 running days a year for 31 years which leads to about 4,836 days I have laced up the shoes. As I think about the past few years I estimate that I probably swallow at least one bug every fifth run, so I approximate that over the last 31 years I have eaten about 967 little critters.

Benefits of Bug Consumption?

So what’s the big deal you ask? Given that the average Fear Factor contestant has had that number of bugs before breakfast, why am I concerned about my bug buffet? A quick review of the literature (yes, I am afraid to say there are people who study these things) actually should set my mind to ease.

One prominent Web site states, “100 grams of insects supplies a full day’s supply of vitamins and minerals as well as over 50 grams of protein, all for a calorie content of about 400 calories.” In fact, because insects are so nutritious, some scientists advocate using them as a source of protein in areas where food is scarce, such as central Africa.

Of course these “experts” lost all credibility when they concluded their article with, “So the next time you see a big bug crawling around in your kitchen, stop and ask yourself how it might taste sautéed with a touch of oregano and garlic!”

Bug Aficionados

I thought this was an isolated fetish but further research revealed a whole world of bug-eating enthusiasts.

A simple Google search revealed many helpful Web sites, none better than the Bay Area Bug Eating Society or B.A.B.E.S. as I like to call them. The thing that makes their site so informative is the meticulous nutritional information listed for grubs and termites. For example, did you know that 100 grams of caterpillar (now that’s one big honking caterpillar) has 28.2 grams of protein and supplies 56 percent of your daily protein needs?

Granted, the bugs I accidentally ingest come in much smaller packages, but with those nutritional numbers I wonder if I have stumbled upon a new way to fuel for a marathon. Maybe if I ran with a porch light attached to my head I would attract enough moths to substitute for a Power Bar.

My vegetarian sensibility is an additional thing that disturbs me about my insect ingestion. Bugs are technically animals and have meat on their exoskeletons even though I have yet to see a mosquito rump roast or tarantula tenderloin. So now when I am asked what kind of vegetarianism I practice, I confidently reply I am a lacto-ova-insecto vegetarian meaning I eat predominately plants but also dairy products, eggs and small black flying things.

Not a Gag-Free Zone

In spite of the apparent nutritional value, I still have a problem with the texture and gag-inducing taste that comes from swallowing a gaggle of No-see-ums (for my Northern brethren, No-see-um is a Southern term for the swarming, minuscule, devil of a bug that populates running paths and street lights). Every time one of these little demons enters my esophagus against my wishes it induces the same reaction. I have to stop, gag a bit, dance up and down like a two year old with a full bladder and curse the fact that I finished my last bit of water moments before. I have been known to stop traffic and scare small children with my post-ingestion antics. It’s like your tax refund, you know it’s coming but it still surprises you when it gets there.

So as I originally said, I am tired of eating bugs, but some reflection and research has mellowed my animosity and I realize that maybe this is God’s way of keeping me nourished on my runs, sort of natures Gatorade but in a slightly gooier state.

Dr. Eaker is an Augusta Ob/GYN  and author. He and his wife, Susan, have two teenage daughters.

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