Yes, Ron Taylor eats insects. Yes, he cooks them, sautes them, fries them and has written a book featuring dozens of insect recipes. But Ron Taylor is not some weirdo who pours termites into his Captain Crunch or spikes his oatmeal with maggots. He's far more concerned with the role insects can play in the battle against global hunger than he is in barbecuing beetles.

"When I started talking about this, the only thing the press wanted to do was focus on the recipes," said Taylor, who will bring his educational and culinary interest to the 1996 Orange county fair. I thought well, if this is what they want, let's do a cookbook. It still helps the process of desensitization. Desensitization is something that is necessary before acceptance and tolerance can occur.

Taylor has written two books on insects: "Butterflies in My Stomach," which was a detailed look into the role insects play and could play in human nutrition; and an insect cookbook, "Entertaining with Insects," listing dozens of insect recipes.

Most of the attention has centered around his unique recipes, such as honey bee souffle, but there is a far deeper purpose to Taylor's mission. He's been claiming for more than 20 years that if certain types of insects could be mass-reared, their proteins could be extracted and added to the diets of people in undeveloped nations.

The idea is unpalatable to most of our sensibilities. But the fact remains that many insects are not only edible, they are at least as healthy and nutritious as the beef, pork, chicken and seafood we routinely eat.

"Twenty years ago, nobody was talking about the subject . . . but now, partly as a result of my books, and my appearances and talks there are a lot more people getting interested and involved."

Taylor isn't interested in insects because he hopes to someday open a national chain of beetle-burger or worm-waffle restaurants. He has the interests of the public health at heart. His resume supports that. He has worked as a Laboratory Director for the Los Angeles County Coroner, established health clinics in four California cities, and is currently the program manager of Orange County's HIV programs. His interest in battling the growing problem of global famine is an extension of his personal work.

Insects are eaten in poorer countries, but is a practice that is looked down upon by the ruling elite of those nations. "Although the world's major religions have dietary guidelines that approve eating insects, it is looked on in our times as uncivilized," Taylor said. But that disdain could be resulting in the loss of thousands of lives, because insects are an incredible source of the most necessary ingredient to the human diet: protein. Protein is in abundant supply in advanced nations. We find it in beef, chicken, pork, milk and cheese. But in poor, underdeveloped nations, those foods are scarce or too costly. By adding insect protein to available food, a key step could be taken in the battle against famine.

"Protein deficiency is the single leading cause of starvation. The picture of starving children with swollen bellies is a symptom of protein deficiency. They don't get enough protein in their diet for muscle to develop properly," Taylor said.

While the vast majority of the approximately one million identified insect species have not been tested for their nutritional value, those that have are high in protein or fat, including termites, grasshoppers and meal-worms. A very realistic goal is to mass-rear termites on huge farms, feeding them wood shavings and other paper waste and them extracting the protein from the animals, which could then be "added to native foodstuffs, such as tortillas, breads and beverages that could have the label 'fortified with animal protein,'" Taylor said.

This will not happen overnight, Taylor admits. And it will not happen until people in the United States and other nations begin looking at insects in a different light that the one usually shed upon them: as pests and six-legged creepy-crawlers that have no benefit to humans.

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