Rainbow Rant: Cicadas. They’re what’s for dinner.

The queer art of eating bugs

Joy Ellison
A Brood X cicada hangs onto a tree trunk on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 at Highbanks Metro Park in Lewis Center, Ohio.

Many queer and trans people feel a kinship with cicadas. After 17 years living underground, these little bugs come out screaming, much like us. The arrival of Brood X has inspired many a joke about ci-gay-das. Lori Gum, however, is taking it one step further. She isn’t just admiring cicadas; she’s eating them. Fifty of them, to be precise. And she wants you to join her. 

Gum gained local fame as one of the stars of Queer Ghost Hunters, a project she is continuing as a podcast called The Q Files. Gum, though, has another passion: bugs. She has turned her Linden backyard into a wild oasis where birds and insects can thrive. It’s her way of contributing to the survival of the creatures she loves and the ecosystem that depends on them. 

Eating cicadas is another way of pursuing the same mission. 

“Insects all over the earth have declined nearly 70 percent over the last 10 years,” Gum said. “Eating them can actually bring attention to their plight.”

Catching 50 cicadas isn’t very hard. Gum chose Highbanks Metro Park as her hunting grounds because she wanted to ensure that the cicadas she harvested hadn’t been exposed to pesticides during those long years spent underground. 

“I just picked them off the branches of the trees,” Gum said. “They were calmly sitting there and did not flee when I reached out to catch them.”

Gum sealed her winged snacks in plastic bags and hopped into her car. That’s when things got more complicated. Between the park and her kitchen, the cicadas managed a jailbreak and began flying around the vehicle. 

“They were in my eyes and in my hair and just screaming at me. It was so loud!” Gum said. “But eventually, I pulled the car over and plucked them off the seats and the ceiling of the car as easily as I had plucked them off the branches.”

The first step to preparing cicadas is to place the bugs in the freezer. One reason to make cicada popsicles is that cicadas can harbor “butt fungus.” Freezing will remove the fungus. It’s also the most humane way to kill the creatures, as freezing lulls them to sleep. 

When Gum put the cicadas into her freezer, she was struck by the sudden end to their buzzing. “It was haunting,” she said. “I thought, no creature should ever be silenced like this. I did, however, cook them and eat them, but I will be forever haunted by their silence.” 

Gum cares deeply for cicadas. “I shared about eating them only because we seem to only value the creatures that we eat,” she said. 

Gum is embracing the contradiction of eating the bugs she’s working to save. 

“I advocate for local food and animals by eating them,” she said. “I was a vegetarian for 22 years, but I decided I could do more by advocating for healthy and humane consumption of animals, until we become a vegan world.”

After freezing the cicadas, Gum blanched them to wash away any pesticides and removed their wings and legs, just like they were shrimp. Then she sprinkled the cicadas with olive oil, salt, Aleppo pepper and dried lime, and roasted them in the oven. Some she used to top a mushroom and cheese pizza, but the rest she ate solo.

What do roasted cicadas taste like? “Nutty, earthy,” Gum said in a Facebook video. “You add a little seasoning and they’re absolutely delicious.”

Gum is a huge advocate for entomophagy, the eating of bugs, a practice already common in many parts of the world. 

“I believe that eating insects is the next most sustainable protein delivery system in the world,” Gum said. According to Gum, farming them would have negligible impacts on the environment and could help to end world hunger. She hopes that other queer and trans people will join her conservation efforts by planting native species to transform their lawns into bird and bug havens or by joining her in chowing down on some cicadas.

“I think we as queer people especially should consider the insects and animals of the earth as endangered,” she said. “We as queers have been our own endangered species for many years and this struggle should make us empathetic to all creatures on the earth.”