Degray Lake State Park program a tongue terror

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published June 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 12, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Park interpreter Jason Parrie eats a mealworm during a program about eating insects at DeGray Lake Resort State Park.

Eat a bug! It may still sound like a playground dare, but in this case, it is a laugh-filled invitation from park interpreter Jason Parrie at DeGray Lake Resort State Park.

On a hillside in the woods, away from the lake, Parrie invited, cajoled, offered incentives and “was not above subjecting someone to peer pressure” to get him to eat some of the bugs he had brought.

“Why not eat a bug?” he asked Friday at the state park during his presentation on edible insects to an audience of more than 20 children and adults. “That they are delicious is a given. Then they are nutritious and filled with protein; plus, they are everywhere.”

Asking for suggestions from the children, Parrie let the audience know that insects are a regular part of the diet of frogs, lizards, snakes and fish, as well as birds, bears, aardvarks and people.

“They are used as food all over the world,” Parrie said, “except in Western Europe and North America.”

At least that is what residents of those areas like to think. Parrie said the truth is something else.

“After all,” he said. “There are only two kinds of people in the world — those who eat bugs and those who know they eat bugs.”

Parrie explained that people already are likely eating some insects or at least some bug parts in almost any processed food, and he quoted from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Defect Levels Handbook.

“Did you know the FDA allows our maraschino cherries to have a level of up to 5 percent of maggots and up to 4 percent of insect pieces?” he asked audience members as they looked at each other in alarm. “Peanut butter can have up to 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams.”

The groans increased when he told the group about the allowed insect level in chocolate.

“There can be up to 60 insect fragments per 100 grams,” Parrie said. “Wonder what’s in a peanut butter cup?”

One woman who had brought her children to Parrie’s presentation cried out, “No, not chocolate!”

The interpreter was confident he could get most of the group who had come to the demonstration to eat a bug. He had a bribe.

“Everyone who eats a bug gets this button,” Parrie said, displaying buttons that proclaimed, “I ate a bug! DeGray Lake State Park.”

“You can’t buy this button,” he said. “You can only earn it, here and now.”

He told a story of how the buttons seemed to be a powerful talisman for would-be bug eaters.

“I had a booth in the student center at Ouachita Baptist University one day, and I had brought my bugs,” Parrie said. “I offered a bug to everyone, but there were no takers.

“Finally, one girl came up and tried one and got a button. Well, her friends saw it, and they had to have one. Soon the line to the booth went out the door.”

However, the offer of the legendary button did not entice everyone at the park on that Friday. While almost all the children were eager to try one, most of the adults seemed uneasy with the idea. One parent, a big man with a Razorback tattooed on his arm, refused Parrie’s invitation, several times.

Finally the moment had come. First, Parrie pulled from his equipment box a carton of the larvae of the mealworm beetle. These were cheddar-cheese flavored, he said.

Parrie placed it on his tongue, held his tongue out for all to see, then chewed. He handed out the larvae. Everyone who was brave enough, or yearning for the button, chewed and swallowed along with Parrie.

Dakota and Dominic of Springfield, Mo., who sat on the front row of the woodland amphitheater during Parrie’s lecture, were the first to reach for the yellow larvae. The boys chomped, then quickly made a small grimace before reaching for their buttons.

Their mother, Vonda Panzica, also tried the larva.

“This is a good program. It teaches us a lot about bugs, and it was fun,” she said.

She said the larva tasted, “OK, and kind of woody.”

Next, Parrie offered crickets that had been roasted and flavored. Some folks who had refused the larva tried a cricket, while others said “one bug a day was enough.”

The cricket has the crunch of a piece of potato chip, but a vegetable-like taste. It went quickly, but some people had to deal with legs in their teeth afterward.

“When the program started, the interpreter used to bake the bugs into cookies,” Parrie said after the demonstration. “When I took over, I didn’t want to bake, so we tried just the bugs.”

He said the edible-insect program is the second most-popular activity in the park, second only to the sunset cruise on the lake.

Parrie said the program is more than about insects and the environment.

“It is about having a good experience,” he said. “I tell the kids that we have to challenge ourselves. If things are getting hard, I tell them they can say, ‘I ate a bug. I can do anything.’

“These kids will not let anything stop them.”

The next edible-insects program at DeGray Lake Resort State Park will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at the park’s amphitheater. For more information, call (501) 865- 5810.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached atzz (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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