My Taste of “Tuli”

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Tuli (noun) = Maidu word for grasshopper

Although I co-authored a book on “Living Wild” and regularly teach classes encouraging locals to sample our native foods, I found my personal edge when I was asked to eat our local grasshopper.

Farrell Cunningham

Farrell Cunningham

The day started out well, with a beautiful fall sky and a group of eager students ready to explore Bear Valley, a meadow habitat just east of Nevada City on Highway 20. I was assisting Farrell Cunningham, a Maidu language instructor, in teaching how to use our native plants for food and health.

We had only walked about 100 yards down the trail, when a multitude of small grasshoppers began to energetically hop on and around us. Farrell immediately stopped our group and began to talk about the traditional use of grasshoppers as food, both by the Maidu and by many cultures around the world.

It was then that I made the unfortunate discovery that Farrell did not just want to discuss traditional insect cuisine, but wanted to demonstrate how to eat grasshoppers as part of the class. I quickly tried to think back on what we had agreed to teach and knew grasshopper-eating was not part of any previous conversation. But I didn’t want to appear unwilling to try a new local food, since I firmly believe that our carbon-neutral future depends on it.

With Farrell’s encouragement, all the participants frantically jumped around in an attempt to catch as many grasshoppers as they could, proving the insect-diet could also serve as a

Roasting Tuli

Roasting Tuli

good workout. When he determined we had enough to feed the group, Farrell dug a shallow pit in the mud, lined it with pine needles, lit them on fire and threw the grasshoppers in. Less than a minute, the fire was out and the insects were ready for tasting.

Farrell advised us to remove the wings and legs and imagine the taste of shrimp. I have to admit that I’m a bit squeamish and couldn’t bring myself to eat their little heads. But I did eat the rest and it actually tasted quite good. Roasted grasshopper might be just what Americans need to get healthy—a good workout followed by a small portion of truly local protein. It’s even okay to ask for seconds.