Chicken Little Eating Crickets: When a mindset turns a windfall into a catastrophe

October 26, 2011 | 20 comments
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I assume we all know the story of Chicken Little. The panic prone little bird concluded the sky was falling, heralding the end of all creation when an apple or a nut (the story varies) fell from the tree above him, bonking him on the head. Something had indeed fallen, giving him a slight injury, but it was not the sky. It was actually lunch–vital sustenance handed to him, a grace independent of all merit on Chicken Little’s part.

How many windfalls do we despise? What events that ought to give us pause for reflection and gratitude instead send us running around screaming about cataclysms?

I traveled to Oaxaca a few years ago with my husband. In the markets were huge barrels of crickets, chapulines, sorted according to size. Being perhaps more adventurous than wise, I ordered chapuline tacos at a restaurant on the town square. The crickets were seasoned and fried in oil. Eaten in freshly made corn tortillas, they were delicious, and just a little crunchy. Of course, the exoskeletons were not exactly digestible, but I already had some problems in that department from other less daring foods I had been eating, like those bus station tortas with the most incredible white cheese.

One of the pioneer stories I distinctly remember hearing as a child was the miracle of the seagulls. When we would travel up to southeastern Idaho to visit my father’s parents, I would  stare at the large painting of the miracle of the seagulls that hung in the front of the chapel in Bancroft and retell the story to my younger brother and sisters during sacrament meeting.  I would catch summer grasshoppers and try to imagine enough of these bugs to threaten starvation. It was a difficult exercise for a child of modern America. The plague of locusts that devastated Pharoah’s Egypt was incomprehensible to me as well.

Just recently, I’ve been given a glimpse of the other side of the story–the side where the crickets weren’t the catastrophe; they were the windfall. The Archaic and Fremont peoples who lived in the Great Basin ate the crickets. When the insects washed up on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, dried and lightly salted, people collected them in baskets–valuable protein there for the taking with the least amount of effort imaginable. The crickets that threatened the Mormon pioneers with starvation were actually a bumper crop.

To be clear, I’m not accusing my pioneer ancestors of needlessly freaking out like a small, crazed chicken. But I am saying that neither the pioneers nor Chicken Little recognized the food that fell at their feet.

And I don’t want to simply promote a Pollyanna-esque attitude that would have us happily make lemons into lemonade. I want to recognize the flaws in our paradigm, our human generated social constructs, that condemns bounty and grace because it is harmful to our little human endeavors.

So what are the windfalls that we despise today? Are they the personal setbacks in our life’s plan? Or are they larger in scale, like the extreme summer weather we just experienced? I am naturally skeptical whenever anyone says we must act NOW. Whether it’s in infomercials or politics, that sounds like a scam to me. Anytime our society tells us that the sky is falling, we need to reevaluate that society, because our human constructs are far more likely to fail than the world around us and the God who cares for us all.

20 Responses to Chicken Little Eating Crickets: When a mindset turns a windfall into a catastrophe

  1. matt beatty on October 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    we’ve been in that Bancroft chapel and seen that painting too. and, I knew about the gathering of the salted crickets from the SL shores — you’ve drawn some interesting and pointed parallels. food for thought for sure. all things gradually.

  2. small star on October 26, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    In the first few years after the pioneers entered the Salt Lake valley, they would buy flour from the Goshute indians that tasted subtly of chestnuts. At some point, the pioneers discovered that the flour was made up of ground, toasted crickets. The pioneers didn’t buy indian flour after that.

  3. Rachel Whipple on October 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Toasted cricket flour tastes like chestnuts? Who would have thought? I would definitely try that. I bet it’s got more protein than a grain based flour. I wonder if I’d need to crush it with a mortar and pestle, or if I could put it through my grain mill…

  4. Sarah Familia on October 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I think you would need to add some gluten to make any kind of decent bread with cricket flour . . .

  5. Jax on October 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Great post Rachel… I sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with us in this regard. I see stories where people recieve great fortune but turn it down or say it feels ‘wrong’ to accept it because they “didn’t earn it”. How many gifts from heaven are turned down because of this I wonder?

  6. Stephen Hardy on October 27, 2011 at 4:14 am

    I understand that when Lewis and Clark arrived in the area of Oregon, they found a society entirely dependent on salmon. They and their men didn’t like the salmon, and were in fact convinced that the dried salmon that they were given was making them sick.

    So, they killed some of their horses, and lived off of them instead of eating salmon.

    It is easy to see past examples of people wasting something valuable offered to them. It is hard to see through our assumptions and prejudices. It is hard for me to see similar situations today, because I am not able to see value in things that appear to me to be garbage.

  7. Aaron on October 27, 2011 at 7:34 am

    I like ‘em sauteed with onions.

  8. Bob on October 27, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Indians of the Northwest coast were so rich by living on Salmon, they held what is known the “Potlatch”. It was a feast where valuables were burned just to show how rich you were. One big chief, when he got out of his canoe, kicked a hole in it bottom to sink it, just to start the show.

  9. Stephanie on October 27, 2011 at 9:09 am

    These are really profound thoughts. I’ve been mulling over them, but don’t have much to add except that I really should be more grateful than I am.

  10. Course Correction on October 27, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Could it be that the Lord sent the crickets as manna from heaven and the pioneers were too dumb to recognize their blessing?

  11. Bob on October 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Course Correction:
    No. My people were sent to the Sanpete Valley in Utah to grow wheat. But the ‘Bugs’ would eat the wheat. The Seagulls and Indians would eat the bugs. The Mormons would not eat the bugs or birds (or Indians). But they did bring in birds they liked to eat, to eat the bugs. The turkey.
    At least that’s the folklore of Moroni, UT. You can go there and find the ranches full of turkeys:)

  12. Rachel Whipple on October 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Course Correction: No, the pioneers weren’t dumb. They simply existed within a paradigm where crickets could only be viewed a pests, and within that paradigm, the cricket plague had the potential to be disastrous. Going along with what Stephen Hardy said, it’s easy to see the limits of other people’s perspectives; it’s much more difficult to see the limits of your own. After all, a paradigm is the way your order your world; as long as you are within it, using it, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to observe.

  13. Ken on October 28, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Thanks for posts that help me step outside my paradigm… a little.

  14. Kaimi on October 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I love the thought you’ve expressed here, Rachel. I’m sure I need to learn to eat the bugs sometimes myself. :)

  15. Martin on October 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I quite like this post. It would never occur to me to eat the crickets either. Of course, the trick is to preserve them through the winter. How long can you store them dried? They don’t seem like something you’d want to bottle…

  16. Bob on October 29, 2011 at 4:16 am

    John the Baptist ate crickets.

  17. david packard on October 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Here’s a windfall that we seem to despise: discretionary time. In the U.S. we make about $100/day per person. Big generalization here, but by comparison, in parts of southern Asia and Latin America it’s 1/10th that amount, and in Sub-Saherian Africa it’s 1/100th that amount.

    Yet, we’ve been “afflicted” with it. We don’t see it as producing discretionary time. We accidentally adopted consumerism as a (very costly) method of communicating who we are to one another. We fill it up, not necessarily doing what’s healthiest for us and our communities, but rather engaged in whatever activity that succeeds at extracting our commitment. Sometimes we complain about how busy we are, or how poor we are (I do know economic disaster is real, and hurts!, but I’m trying to challenge paradigms here). Advances in technology, instead of fixing our “affliction” it has exacerbated it. Aaahh! the sky is falling! Not enough time! Hurry Hurry! That’s the contradiction I sometimes feel.

    i’m not

  18. living in zion on October 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    #17 I agree with you.

    I think this post is brilliant. Especially after I watched a couple of Food Network shows about delicacies around the world. Nothing like seeing an open air market with giant cockroaches skewered on a stick and ready to bar-b-que to make ya rethink what is edible and what isn’t.

  19. david packard on November 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Here’s another windfall we seem to despise: Jello. Mormons has been plagued with it for 50 years. At ward parties, family gatherings, even privately when nobody’s looking, we have Jello everywhere! Then, all of the sudden, deacons and sometimes teachers will swoop in and devour it all up, just like that. We become immensely grateful for their appetite and protection.

    But studies have been done: Jello’s quite harmless. It actually could be eaten in a number of different ways, even in large quantities, with very few negative side effects. We can just go ahead and partake of this wonderful jiggley Jello until we hunger, neither shall we thirst.

  20. Bob on November 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    david packard:
    “Jello’s quite harmless..”
    I don’t know that’s so. My mom made it with hamburger in it. It wasn’t too good.

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