Chew or swallow.
That is the question everybody asks as Kathleen Burton, executive director of Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, gets ready to sit down for a special meal.
It is Sunday afternoon and the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary is hosting an afternoon of nature lessons under the heading of Grossology that allows visitors to learn more slugs, snakes, and spiders. But the undeniable highlight of this journey into “the secret world of the revolting” as the centre calls it is of a gastronomical nature.
The setting itself could not have been more picturesque. Sparkles danced across Swan Lake as the sun streamed through the window, where staff had a set up a small table for Burton. A simple ‘reserved’ sign and colourful flowers pinned down a white table cloth. The dinner ware was rimmed porcelain. Everything looked very elegant, if romantic, where it not for the fact that the food on the plate was still wriggling.
Minutes before Burton sits down, five live meal-worms were squiggling and squirming on the plate. By the time, Burton had sat down, their numbers had grown to six, after local realtor Krista Voitchovsky had donated $500 towards the Give-a-$heet campaign to restore the floating boardwalk at Swan Lake. This of course meant that Burton was about to sit down for a $3,000 meal, but she wasn’t exactly watering at the mouth.
“Does anybody want to share?” she asked the 30 people, who had gathered around her table to watch her chow down. “I’m happy to share.”
“No,” responded the crowd, with laughter. After Burton had thanked the various donors, she sat down. “Want do you think, one at a time?” she asked. The audience however was baying for Burton to eat standing up. Obliging, she showed for everyone to see. “Oh, they are wiggling off the plate,” she said. “Don’t you let them escape,” said Coral Forbes, naturalist.
“Oh, look at them wiggle,” said Burton. “I’m shaking. Here we go. Num, num, num.”
People cheer and clap after Burton has chewed down on the first worm. But her facial reaction left no doubt that she did not savour it.
“All right, that is one,” she says, as her cheeks are contorting with disgust. “Oh, they are not yummy, let’s just say.”
But Burton is game and she actually praises the second worm. “Oh, that one is kind of nice,” she says, seemingly surprised by her own reaction.
Number three and four go down easier and Burton is obviously having fun now.. “I could be on Fear Factor now,” she says, matter-of-factly.
Number five leaves behind a bad taste, but Burton’s ordeal is about to end.
“Kathleen, Kathleen,” cheers the crowd in unison. She then chases the empty plate with a glass of cranberry juice. “Oh, that is much better, much better,” she says.
So how did it taste? “That first one was really disgusting,” she says. “That thing exploded in my mouth.” But good causes often demand difficult sacrifices and Sunday’s unusual gets the centre closer to its goal of replacing the floating boardwalk.
This said, the centre still needs to raise $400,000 to $500,000, or about anywhere between 800 and 1,000 mealworms. “If a big donation were to come in, I would gladly eat a full meal of mealworms. But I think I would have to have them cooked, and sauteed and flavoured. But I would do it.”