Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues19-1“All Creatures Yum!!”: Cicada Man...

Abstract

Science and technology studies scholars have discussed the concept of nature within the context of Christian settler hierarchies (Cronon; Haraway; Titon). However, despite an emerging literature (Doolittle; Mundy), the narrativization of interspecies relations in musical contexts remains undertheorized. In this paper, I examine the ways that music has been used to construct seventeen-year Magicicada Brood X as biologically necessary within Christian environmentalism in the Midwestern United States, despite widespread popular claims that cicadas are “annoying” or “gross.” Utilizing a mixture of gastromusicological and multispecies ethnographic techniques, I examine the 2021 event “All Creatures Yum!” in Bloomington, IN, which featured a combination of cicada culinary pop-ups with an album of cicada music. Critiquing David Rothenberg’s claim that cicada noise is evidence of a prior stage of human musical evolution, I argue that the pairing of cicadas-as-food with cicadas-as-musical-collaborators suggests a complex negotiation by which participants are involved in “eating the Other” as theorized by bell hooks . The violence of consumption, contrasted with narratives of benevolent bio-musical harmony, brings to light questions of “what particular forms of life and death mean and why they matter” (Van Dooren 7).

Top of page

Full text

1. Introduction: All Creatures Yum!

  • 1 Though commonly pronounced like the 24th letter of the alphabet, “Brood X” refers to the Roman nume (...)

1In May 2021, waiting for a crepe at a locally owned French restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana, I noticed a white piece of paper taped to the walk-up window. It contained an image of an insect, wings spread in a position reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a QR code and a hashtag: “#allcreaturesYum!” (Figure 1). The image was advertising for a series of culinary and musical events in celebration of the return of “periodical cicadas”—insects that emerge once every thirteen or seventeen years, spending the remainder of their lives underground (Simmons, Wever and Pylka 212)—known as Brood X.1 A play on the hymn text “All Creatures of Our God and King,” All Creatures Yum! articulates what Alexandra Hui has referred to as the “imagined ecology” (37) of Southern Indiana, providing insight into literal and metaphorical ideas of interspecies harmony in local contexts.

2Figure 1: Poster advertising All Creatures Yum! Photo by author.

3That idealized conceptualizations of nature are linked not only to North American identity, but specifically to Christian settler ideologies has been well established by authors such as William Cronon, Emily Doolittle, Donna Haraway, and Jeff Todd Titon. Even recent writings by scholars such as David Rothenberg suggest an evolutionary continuity between cicadas and humans that positions each in its proper place based on its sonic capabilities—a hierarchy that might be conceptually linked with religion through its parallel to Adam’s naming of the animals (Harrison 879). Yet despite an emerging literature on the role of evolutionary classification in formulating racial and cultural identity (Mundy), the complex ways in which such hierarchies trickle into vernacular culture remain underexplored, particularly as pertains to music. In this paper, I unearth the ways in which Christian ecological imaginaries of ideal interspecies relations manifest at the intersection of the musical and the gastronomical at All Creatures Yum!

  • 2 Fortunately, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended an app to help u (...)
  • 3 Cicadas, and their attendant noise, have also been involved in national politics on multiple occasi (...)

4The arrival of Brood X in 2021 was anxiously anticipated by local news media in a mixture of celebration, consternation, and morbid fascination, largely due to the sounds they produced. Brood X contains three different species, all with red eyes, whose calls were differentiated by the following mnemonics by entomologist Charles Riley in the late 1800s: Magicicada septendecim (phar-r-r-r-aoh!), Magicicada cassini (tsh-e-e-E-E-E-E-E-e-ou!) and Magicicada setendecula (mch mch mCH mCH mCH Ch ch ch ch!) (Riley 264-5; Rothenberg 23; Simmons, Wever, and Pylka 212). To say that the collective noise of these species is pervasive would be an understatement. Emerging in the late afternoon, huge masses of insects rapidly clicking a chitinous abdominal membrane known as a “tymbal” (Pringle 525) created what was at times an actively painful wash of sound. Audiologists warned that exposure to chorusing cicadas—which could reach 90 dB—for more than 15 minutes could cause permanent hearing damage (Kritsky, “One for the Books” 45).2 Thus despite their unique ecological significance, many Hoosiers had mixed feelings about the roughly six weeks in which Brood X inhabited the surface of the state.3

5Hoosiers’ mixed emotions were celebrated at events such as All Creatures Yum!, which drew on the general population’s morbid fascination with insects, while simultaneously seeking to recuperate the cicada’s reputation as ugly, unclean, or unpleasant. As a fundraiser for a local Christian school and drawing from the organizers’ beliefs about the role of nature in Christianity, All Creatures Yum! sought to position idealized human-cicada relationships within a kind of Christian ecology. In the pages that follow, I draw from participant-observation and interviews with event organizers to examine All Creatures Yum!’s mobilization of Christian ideology to make claims that cicadas are beautiful, necessary, and biologically advantageous. The literal and metaphorical interspecies harmony produced by All Creatures Yum! positions humans in a relationship with animals otherwise perceived as annoying or unpleasant. Furthermore, the violence of animal consumption obscured by such narratives creates an opportunity for exploring Thom van Dooren’s call for a “multispecies ethics,” or “a relational, ecological engagement with what particular forms of life and death mean and why they matter (11, 7).”

6If, as I argue, cicadas are entangled in the production of human social categories, this is not to suggest that insects are the “ultimate other” that precedes human social divisions. Rather, following the works of scholars like Benedicte Boisseron, bell hooks, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Claire Jean Kim, and Rachel Mundy, I suggest that human-animal practices are embedded in logics of racial and cultural difference. In other words, Christian Hoosiers’ engagements with cicadas via the logics of evolutionary biology necessarily inflect and are entangled with racial and cultural attitudes in oblique and overt ways. Disentangling the practices of cicada-human relations in Indiana thus provides insight into the inner workings of human categorical structuring, something that becomes visible only when attending to the varied cultural forms that made up the musical-culinary event. Much as Pierpaolo Polzonetti has argued that the Renaissance banquet can be considered a kind of “multimedia art” (11) in which generic conventions of food and music combine to create meaning, I argue that the significance of All Creatures Yum! can only be understood by positioning the culinary and the musical in tandem. As such, in addition to considerations of biology, identity, and the human, this paper contributes to discussions of gastromusicology, a term coined by Polzonetti and recently extended by scholars such as Alisha Lola Jones, Liliana Carrizo, and Kaley Mason.

2. All Creatures Yum! and Christian Environmentalism

  • 4 Jones notes that they sold 600 tacos, in addition to the numerous other items available, suggesting (...)

7Spearheaded by Bloomington resident Aaron Jones, All Creatures Yum! was a celebration of Brood X that was attended by what organizers estimate were more than 600 people on an unexpectedly hot day in May.4 The event was inspired by Jones’ father, a biologist at Drury University in Missouri, and conceptualized as a way of engaging with the local environment in an effort to promote a greater sense of connectedness to the natural world. A collaboration between local chef Jeremy Chasteen, artist Ben Crum, several Bloomington restaurants, vendors, and musicians, the event featured an exclusive ice cream flavor with chocolate-covered cicada larvae, cicada tacos by a local taco truck, and sausages with cicadas by a local meat vendor. The organizers have since expanded their enterprise to create additional pop-up events with themed cuisines, many drawing from wild harvested Indiana plants and animals.

8Jones stated that “All Creatures Yum!” was an effort to reconsider Christian relationships to the natural world: “As a Christian myself—I think it’s very sad that Christians have lost that doctrinal concern in stewardship of nature and respecting nature... [All Creatures Yum!] was a way to revive it in a playful way” (interview with author). He continued, “A lot of times Christians get lost in some kind of Creation-Evolution debate and it wasn’t about that. It was about do you have a sense of awe and appreciation of nature [to] be thankful for it and also protect it” (interview with author). The connection between Christianity and ecology was evident in the religious discourses mobilized around the event, as well as its goal of generating donations for a local Christian school.

9Such concerns about Christian relationships to nature were evident throughout the group’s online presence prior to the event. On their Facebook page, All Creatures Yum! described themselves as: “A celebration of God’s diverse and creative provision through nature” (“All Creatures Yum!”). Regular posts by organizers made additional Biblical references, including a May 20 psalm quotation:

#broodX, Psalms 148:7. Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
Right down there, however low the caverns may be, let the strange creatures that inhabit the secret places in the very bottoms of the mountains and the depths of the seas,—let them send out the deep bass of their praise...
If you cannot praise God by soaring up like eagles, if you feel more like the creeping things of the earth, still praise him. There is something very pleasant in the spiritual allusion that grows out of this verse. You who seem like poor worms of the dust, or insects of an hour, can yield your little need of praise to God...
Charles Spurgeon.

10Additional posts referred to the cicadas as “God’s handiwork,” “God’s wonderful and strange creatures," and to trees with particularly numerous cicada populations as the “Tree of Life for cicadas” (“All Creatures Yum!”).

11Jones’ mobilization of Christianity and ecology mirrors what Laurel Kearns has described as the “creation spirituality ethic” of Christian ecology. One ideology in an emergent movement spurred by the broader rise of environmentalism in the United States in the 1960s, the creation spirituality ethic is based on the assumption that the roots of the environmental crisis lie in human alienation from nature (Grasse 5, 56). Concerned with wilderness and species preservation, and understanding humans as situated within a proper structuring of the ecosystem, Kearns suggests that proponents of this model of Christian ecology are searching for a “new understanding of humanity and an organicist cosmology that leads to an ethic of harmony” (54).

12Similarly, Jeff Todd Titon has recently written about the embeddedness of sacred language within ecosystems ecology and the power of the performed word to alter relations among many kinds of beings (163). Focusing on the Judeo-Christian concept of “husbandry” in Appalachian mountain farming communities, Titon uses first person narratives to unveil how concepts of “right relations between humans and the animals and plants in nature, and right relations among family members needed to maintain the household economy, along with kin and neighbors to maintain the community” (163) are expressed through worship. More significantly, the husbandry concept connects “the material culture of farming with the human culture of family and the spiritual culture of God” (168) such that it “reaffirms choices, adjusts relations and personal identities, and binds families, community and environment while setting a course for the future” (181). Much as Christian concepts of “ideal” relations to the land impacted Titon’s interlocutors’ relationships to it, Christian ideologies of harmonic species relations dictated the types of human-insect relationality present at All Creatures Yum!

13For Jones and Chasteen, All Creatures Yum! acted as a way of situating humans within environmental cycles of time, of positioning themselves in an ethical ecological relationship with the land but obtaining sustenance from it. This was achieved not just by honoring the cicadas with an event, but through the act of incorporating the cicadas into the body through eating—an act, Jones claimed, that was one of ecological awareness. As we shall see, however, the history of insect consumption and aversion in the United States is linked to colonial histories that complicate the musical narrativization of the event, bringing it into tension with its material consumptive realities.

3. Theorizing Cicada Consumption

14Though much scholarship claims that insect consumption is “virtually absent” in the United States, entomophagy is common in educational campaigns at museums and universities (Lesnik 560). Insect-based dishes can be found at events such as the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science’s annual “BugFest,” the Austin Bug (Eating) Festival, the Brooklyn Bug Festival, and the Iowa State University Insect Horror Film Festival (Banigan; Littleherds.org; Perdue 75; Rice 6), variously geared towards “adventurous” eating, the transgression of social expectations, and conversations about sustainability. While there is a long history of indigenous consumption of insects in North America (Lesnik 560; Schrader, Oonincx and Ferreira 113), in contexts like these, insect eating is presented both as a novelty and as a solution to world hunger. The novelty element is further perpetuated by media such as the television series Fear Factor, which often requires participants to consume insects in order to receive a cash prize (Perdue 77).

15Insect consumption is particularly prevalent during cicada emergences (Rothenberg; Krisky), a phenomenon documented as early as 1715 in the United States (Lesnik 561). In Columbia, Missouri, an ice cream shop made national news in 2011 by selling a flavor that included chocolate-covered cicadas (Peralta). Employee Amanda Rainey created a collaborative album about the experience (Applestein), which includes the song, “Yummy! Pass the Sprinkles”:

I was talking with Amanda
at a J Tran show
She said the cicadas
in Columbia, Missouri were back this year
Apparently her ice cream shop
had been making news
for dishing out sugar coated cicada ice cream
by the scoop.
They were told to stop,
even though the health code
didn’t directly address cicadas.

I looked it up on Google.
Clicked one of the links,
then I scrolled down to the
comments section just for fun

Someone named NeilJ1
Felt the need to say
That he wasn’t a big ice cream fan,
but he would definitely pass on this flavor.

ConnerE5 said,
‘Damn, Rocky Road will be the next to go.’
Another guy said, ‘Yummy! Pass the sprinkles.’

16“Yummy! Pass the Sprinkles” is fascinating ethnographically, not just for describing the cicada ice cream itself, but for demonstrating a broad range of consumer attitudes, ranging from disgust to enjoyment. As such, it provides a blueprint for considering the ethical dilemmas that surrounded the emergence of Brood X in Indiana ten years later.

  • 5 This trend towards crowd-sourcing reflected broader currents in public engagement with the 2021 Bro (...)

17Much like Missourians’ response to cicada ice cream, responses to All Creatures Yum! were also mixed. This became particularly evident in the weeks leading up to the event, in which the organizers used Facebook to organize cicada collection for eventual use in the event’s food.5 Organizers posted pictures of large bags of cicadas, offering collection techniques as well as health warnings, advising those with shrimp allergies to avoid eating the cicadas, and also noting the insects’ ability to bioaccumulate mercury (“All Creatures Yum!”; Kritsky 45).

18Participant responses to the event ranged from humor, disgust, and moral outrage. Particularly telling is one thread, which began with a user posting, “What on God’s flat earth is this?” poking fun at conspiracy theories as a way of expressing what they perceived as the ridiculousness of the event. Another user replied: “My exact feelings. Why am I just now learning that people eat cicadas by choice!!!???”

19The expressions of disbelief were countered by moralizing comments like the following: “I submit for your consideration that most insects are very high in protein and that with our federal governments (sic) lack of understanding of what money is and how it works we might all be eating a lot more bugs in the future. Best to start developing new recipes now just in case.” The comparison between the emphasis on insect protein as subsistence food and insect consumption as a titillating novelty underline broader debates about animal consumption, exoticism, and “proper” relations between humans and insects, especially in environmentalist contexts. Another user posted:

Why are you promoting eating a valuable insect that supports our environment in so many ways? Don’t humans have enough sources of protein to keep us happy?
The amazing Cicada sends out a unique summer vibratory ringing sound that stops you in your tracks. They are a marvelous, largely beneficial insect. They are food for any wildlife that eats insects. (“All Creatures Yum!”)

20Jones and Chasteen responded, pointing out that the limited predation by humans did little to impact the massive numbers of cicadas each year. Another poster claimed the original user had “answered their own question” by pointing out that cicadas are predated upon by almost all carnivorous animals. The original user replied, “Give an insect a break, eat soy.”

21Clearly All Creatures Yum! was wrapped up in more than simply discourses about whether or not it was “gross” to eat bugs, or even in a simple celebration of the local foods available in the Midwestern summer. The user’s concern over appropriate biological relations between humans and cicadas reflected deep concerns over what constituted a “harmonious” relationship. Interestingly, while the user believed that a harmonious cicada-human relationship consisted of a primarily passive one, Jones and Chasteen’s ideas about interspecies harmony reflected a more active engagement—despite the fact that the ultimate goal, reverence and appreciation of the cicada, was the same for both parties.

22As scholars Rebecca Earle and Julie Lesnik have pointed out, resistance to cicada consumption in the United States is linked to colonial history. Early settlers in the United States complained of illnesses caused by eating an unfamiliar diet, believing that the only remedy was consumption of European staples (Lesnik 562; Earle 697, 703). Such illnesses were not believed to be only temporary maladies; as Earle points out, “medical thinking maintained that European foods were what prevented Spaniards from degenerating into Indians” (700). Insects were particularly scorned in accounts by colonizers like Christopher Columbus and Francisco López de Gómara as a cause of the “subhuman nature” of those that consumed them (Lesnik 562; Earle 703). Settlers quickly began growing European crops, which flourished perhaps because the land had not been overtaxed as it had been in Europe (Lesnik 562). The rapid growth of crops in favorable conditions “was used by some writers to adduce that the New World was in fact the location of the Garden of Eden” (Earle 702). Given what was perceived as divine approval over the colonization process, settlers took this as “an invitation to do as they pleased” (Lesnik 562).

23The European distaste for insects is also traceable to the Bible. Scholars differ on whether the mention of locusts as foodstuffs in the Bible suggests a predilection for insect consumption or a prohibition, but the mention of locusts as food is present in Leviticus (Lesnik 561; Schrader, Oonnincx, and Ferreira 112-13; Perdue 74): “Even these of them ye may eat: the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind. But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet shall be an abomination to you” (King James Bible, Leviticus 11: 22-3). Some scholars even suggest that the prohibition against insect consumption is borrowed from Judaism, given that insects are not kosher (Lesnik 561).

24In the late 1800s, parallels between locusts and cicadas came to the forefront of the public imagination, when The New York Times began publishing articles clarifying the difference between the two species. Early newspaper titles included “The Locust Plague to Reappear This Year” (1860), “The Seventeen-Year Locusts: Entomologists Call them Cicada Septemdicem” (1894), and “The 17-Year Locust Shuns Manhattan” (1919), many seeking to debunk the myth that periodical cicadas sting, bite, or damage crops (Berenbaum 15-16). Bob Dylan perpetuated the myth in 1970, writing “Day of the Locusts” while receiving an honorary degree at Princeton in the middle of a Brood X emergence (Rothenberg 23). Indeed, we can understand the persistence of negative attitudes about cicadas in part due to these narrative parallels with Biblical plagues.

25Given the historical connection between food aversion and colonialism, narratives about eating insects in the United States are often conceptualized as part of a decolonial project (Looy et al.). However, many of these accounts rely on the characterization of insect protein as a crisis food, discursively linking it with the Global South. A study published in 2021, for example, suggested that adding five grams per day of insect protein to a diet could alleviate 67 million people from risk of protein deficiency—particularly people in Asia and Africa (Smith et al. 1).

26Additionally, travel narratives link insect consumption with these areas of the world, particularly when U.S. citizens consume insects as a part of “exotic” travel experiences. In such cases, insect consumption is enacted as a white fantasy of primitivism during travel. One example from American Entomologist involves a prominent scholar forcing his local guide in Africa to eat fried cicadas, despite the guide’s insistence that he would prefer not to (Rice 7). In the narrative, the guide is presented as foolish and uneducated, whereas the white entomologist is the bringer of knowledges heretofore unknown. As entomophagy scholar Robert Perdue claims, “food as exotic is analogous in many ways to colonialism; exotic foods are to be discovered, judged and conquered by the white, Western gaze” (Perdue 78). In the same way, local knowledges are useful only insofar as they support this colonial project.

27Such exoticist discourses proliferate in media coverage of international foods as well. Describing a controversial banquet served to football team Real Madrid that allegedly included fried grasshoppers, bamboo worms, and glazed bees, Mei Zhan writes, “fascinations with the consumption of ‘wild animals’ became a focal point in European and Chinese media coverage of Real Madrid’s China trip precisely because these discourses of ‘wild’ consumptions simultaneously reconfigured Orientalist tropes of the enthusiastic and savvy consumer-self” (33, 34). In other words, media disparagement of David Beckham and his teammates’ resistance to eating unfamiliar foods while in China creates space for travel narratives in which consumers (in both the culinary and the capitalist sense) could imagine themselves to be worldly participants in a globalized society. As Polzonetti argues about opera, food is both symbol and actant in assemblages of identity characteristics like class, race, and gender.

28Similarly, María Elena García has written about the industrialization of cuy (guinea pig) production in Perú as a function of nationalist development projects. The cuy, traditionally consumed in Quechua households, has been rebranded as part of an internationalist Peruvian cuisine, seeking to move away from racist formulations of disgust associated with stereotyping indigenous foods as unsanitary or anti-modern. Rebranding the cuy by chefs such as Gastón Acurio and Virgilio Martínez instead positions the animal within exoticist discourses designed to serve the interests of white capitalists, solidifying existing colonial racial hierarchies as a result. As such, the context of marketing specific foods associated with displeasure or disgust is crucial to their formulation as acceptable for consumption by particular kinds of touristic others.

29Consuming cicadas is thus an exercise in power. Consider bell hooks’ seminal essay, “Eating the Other”, which further addresses the linkages between the consumption of “exotic” cultural products and more explicit consumption of racialized bodies: Critiquing narratives of multiculturalism, hooks argues that pop culture claiming to validate desire for Black cultural products instead reinforces racial hierarchies as it instrumentalizes Black bodies in the service of white identity politics. She writes, “within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (21). While superficially, such narratives claim to validate otherwise disparaged Black cultural products in the media mainstream, “the over-riding fear is that cultural, ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate—that the Other will be eaten, consumed, and forgotten” (39). We can thus understand touristic consumption of insects as embroiled in a similar kind of morbid fascination, in which the linkages with death—either through cultural appropriation or the literal killing practices associated with cicada collection—function in exerting power.

4. All Creatures... Sing?

30When I spoke with Jones a year after the event, he rapidly dismissed claims about insect protein as a new frontier in sustainability, arguing that consuming cicadas put humans in a direct relationship with the environment. Jones’s ideas about human-cicada relationships were further exemplified through the brief musical album Little Lamb, Little Cicada that accompanied the event. Jones recorded tracks with friend and operatic baritenor Michael Spyres, soprano Tara Stafford-Spyres, and cellist Steuart Pincombe in Missouri a few weeks in advance, and juxtaposed them with field recordings taken during the Brood X emergence. The comparison between field recording and human music implies a sonic ecology in which humans and cicadas are placed in a harmonious relationship.

31The sequencing of the album supports Jones’s goal of enmeshing insects and humans in a sonic ecosystem, each species playing its part:
Track 1 ‘Cicadas at medium distance,’ Cicada field recording
Track 2 ‘Little lamb—little cicada,’ Tenor and cello
Track 3, ‘All Creatures of Our God and King,’ Tenor, soprano, and cello
Track 4, ‘F drone and cicada,’ Cello and cicada
Track 5, ‘Cicada Single Close,’ Cicada field recording
Track 6, ‘Cicada Pair Close,’ Cicada field recording
Track 7, ‘Cicadas Distant,’ Cicada field recording
Track 8, ‘The Worm Song,’ Piano and vocals

32By alternating between cicada-only tracks, human-only tracks, and human-and-cicada tracks, the album seeks to establish equal musical agency between humans and insects. Cicadas and humans are conceptualized as performers who contribute different pieces to the album.

33Jones himself considered the cicadas to be agentive musical partners in the project, stating, “the cicadas, they’re singing... it may seem like an ugly sound, but I find it disarming” (interview with author). The characterization of cicadas as “singers” mirrors a history of animal recordings that, according to Rachel Mundy, articulate not only species identity, but animal personhood (53, 59). Early examples of this approach to recording include Payne and McVay’s Songs of the Humpback Whale, which used animal musicianship to promote conservation (Grebowicz 3; Mundy 59). In the case of All Creatures Yum!, cicada musicianship was similarly geared towards reframing cicada sound as something other than unpleasant, and therefore a viable part of the ecosystem.

34Track 4, “F drone and cicada” perhaps supports this claim the most directly. Featuring a continuous cello pitch alongside cicada calls, the piece makes visible the shifting timbres of cicada vocalization, focusing on their fluctuations rather than changes in pitch. Thus, the track considers what it might be like for humans to adopt the cicada’s aesthetic as a part of musical practice.

35The imitative quality of “F drone and cicada” was also present at the recording session itself. Organizers brought a bucket of cicadas to the studio, and cicadas actively crawled on tenor Michael Spyres as he sang, adding their insect voices at random points throughout the recording (Jones, email communication). A video posted to the All Creatures Yum! Facebook page in late May shows Spyres laughing and imitating the insect sound, suggesting what the recording might have sounded like if he had tried to sing the hymns “like a cicada.” The musical interruptions provided by the insects suggests the cicadas’ agency in contributing to—or perhaps thwarting—the production of musical content in their honor, while Spyres’ reaction suggests an underlying conceptualization of the insects as agentive vocalists with distinctive voices. Thus, All Creatures Yum!’s claims about interspecies harmony became literally enacted as cicadas and musicians performed together.

36Of course, there is a precedent for All Creatures Yum!’s musical engagement with cicadas, most notably by composer-philosopher David Rothenberg. Rothenberg, drawing from a long tradition of ecologically-minded experimental art music, performed duets with periodical cicada emerging in 2021. Known for performances with a variety of species, Rothenberg’s work seeks to situate humans and insects on a biological continuum, suggesting that insect sounds are the origin of rhythm in human musical practice. Biological determinism aside, Rothenberg’s music helps situate humans and cicadas in a relationship of necessity and continuity, suggesting again that insects otherwise characterized as distasteful, “noisy,” or otherwise unpleasant, are in fact beneficial, necessary, and beautiful.

37The tracks on Little Lamb, Little Cicada, however, offered more than a secular ecological interpretation of cicada song: they specifically situated it within ideas about Christian environmentalism. Track 3, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” draws its text from The Canticle of Brother Sun (Il cantico di Frate Sole) written by St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals (Doyle 396-97). Set to music by W.H. Draper, the hymn gives thanks for a series of natural phenomena, here sung in unison with cello backing and cicada interjections. By listing aspects of the natural world for which the listener should be grateful, the hymn directly addresses the issue of human-animal relations, seeking to situate humans within a broader ecosystem. Echoing the title of the event, the hymn’s presence on the album further highlights the claim that humans and animals are conceptualized in a harmonious relationship with one another, and that that relationship is mediated through Christian ideas about interspecies harmony.

38Track 2, a setting of William Blake’s “Little Lamb” for tenor and cello, similarly speaks to harmonious species relations. The poem’s text instructs the listener that God is responsible for the lamb’s “softest clothing wooly bright” and “tender voice,” positioning both lamb and narrator within a Christian creation. Though Blake has historically been considered a key voice in Enlightenment theories of the separation of humans from nature, more recent scholarship has begun to interpret his works through an ecocritical lens (Lussier 397; Jamili and Khoshkan 15). The lamb, of course, may also be interpreted as the son of God, further utilizing pastoral imagery to suggest Christian environmentalism (Hilton 200). Though the album does not add cicadas to the lyrics of the song, the title suggests that insects, much like sheep, are part of a pastoral image of creation.

39And yet, at All Creatures Yum!, cicadas were both considered agentive musicians and a viable food source, bringing to light aspects of Thom van Dooren’s “multispecies ethics” (7). Writing about crows, Van Dooren examines cross-species conflicts in ways that unveil latent ethics intimately emerging from the specificities of animal-human relations in a particular place, the “possibilities of life and death” (10) for multiple kinds of beings. Much as in Van Dooren’s work, All Creatures Yum! unveils ethical dilemmas about insect subjectivity and interspecies violence: though not discussed explicitly at the event, arguments against insect protein often touch on the question of insect sentience—a topic of greater ambiguity than that concerning animals perceived to be higher in the evolutionary hierarchy. While claims that bees can understand the concept of zero (Nieder), or that fruit flies experience chronic pain (Khuong et al.), are often used as evidence of insect intelligence, critics provocatively argue that insect sentience cannot be definitively proven (Fischer 256). For some, the inability to be sure about insect sentience suggests that insects should not be consumed; at All Creatures Yum!, however, cicada musicianship does not preclude their eventual conversion into foodstuffs.

40How did the organizers justify this decision? A closer examination of the narrative and musical texts that surrounded the event reveals a focus not on individual cicadas, but on a collective system that remains in harmony. Given that the event draws both from biology—in which trophic hierarchies are necessary to the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem—and Christianity, in which the ordering of species is central to the Creation myth, this apparent paradox begins to make sense. At All Creatures Yum!, a harmonious system is one in which each animal plays the role that it is meant to in order to support the maintenance of the system—in this case, the cicada’s role is to serve as food. When humans fail to understand their relationship to cicadas, that harmonious relationship deteriorates. When instead they acknowledge and appreciate the cicada’s role, the annoyance at the cicada’s overwhelming presence is eliminated.

41The hierarchical nature of this relationship is particularly troubling if we bring into conversation the social imbalances implied through narratives of insect consumption with these musical expressions of species order. If insect consumption is inevitably linked to exoticist fantasies and if cicada music is designed to maintain an implicit species hierarchy, the event expresses a particular social structure as much as it glorifies natural cycles. Only by considering these two aspects of the event in conjunction with one another do such dynamics become clear.

5. Conclusions

42All Creatures Yum! was conceptualized as a Christian articulation of a harmonious cicada-human relationship. This relationship is predicated on a specific ordering of relations, inspired by both biological and Biblical texts, and enacted in human consumption of insects. The violence of consumption is obscured through the idealization of cicada’s place within the ecosystem, which is naturalized and validated through Christian ideology.

43Rather than moralize about whether cicadas should or should not be eaten, this paper is an attempt to unveil the mechanisms by which ethical decisions about food are made in insect-full spaces. This provides an opportunity to engage with debates about what Thom van Dooren has referred to as multispecies ethics, considering which forms of animal life are considered worthwhile and why, within particular social and musical contexts. In the case of the cicadas, debates about whether or not insects should be consumed offered two conflicting approaches to essentially the same question—how to appreciate, value, and celebrate the seventeen-year cicada emergence. On one hand, external users suggested that such reverence required an act of separation, of simply observing the cicadas while continuing to eat only plant products. By contrast, the organizers of All Creatures Yum! sought to engage more directly in the cicada emergence through the act of collecting cicadas, learning about their biology, and ultimately consuming them. Reflections on the significance of this experience were articulated through the musical engagements that emerged as a part of the event.

44The music itself commented more directly on the human-cicada relations implied by All Creatures Yum! by suggesting that humans and cicadas could be placed onto an equal performative stage, juxtaposing field recordings with classical music. These performances in turn considered interspecies harmony through the content of hymns such as “All Creatures of Our God and King” and William Blake’s “Little Lamb.” Finally, the recordings were made in the context of a massive insect emergence, with the participation of individual cicadas, in which human plans were continuously forced to adapt due to the pervasiveness of the cicadas themselves.

45According to organizers, “All Creatures Yum!” was intended as a humorous engagement with the 2021 Brood X emergence that leaned into the feelings of disgust, annoyance, and irritation expressed by many Indiana residents about the arrival of the insects. Yet underneath the surface, the event showcases Indiana residents’ debates about ecology, the ethical treatment of animals, and the ideal relations between humans and insects. “All Creatures Yum!” thus offers insight into the many cultural factors that define human-animal relations in North America.

Top of page

Bibliography

“All Creatures Yum!” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/groups/251465170105607. Accessed 11 May 2022.

Applestein, Mike. “The Rainey Sisters’ Dubb Nubb and Special Passenger Records.” Riverfront Times, 2011, https://www.riverfronttimes.com/music/the-rainey-sisters-dubb-nubb-and-special-passenger-records-2495698. Accessed 18 April 2022.

Banigan, Melissa. “At Bug-Eating Festival, Kids Crunch Down on the Food of the Future.” NPR, 2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/14/550188017/at-bug-eating-festival-kids-crunch-down-on-the-food-of-the-future. Accessed 1 September 2023.

Berenbaum, May R. “Same Old (Cicada) Song.” American Entomologist, vol. 67, no. 3, 2021, pp. 14-17.

Boisseron, Bénédicte. Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question. Columbia UP, 2018.

Carrizo, Liliana. “Eating from the Plates of Ghosts: Iraqui Biographical Songs and the Gastromusicology of Trauma.” Presentation at the Annual Meeting for the Society of Ethnomusicology, New Orleans, LA, 2022.

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History, vol. 1, no. 1, 1996, pp. 7-28.

Doolittle, Emily. “‘Scarce Inferior to the Nightingale’: Hermit Thrush Song and Cultural Identity in Anglophone North America.” Ecomusicology Review, vol. 8, 2021, https://ecomusicology.info/doolittle21/.

Doyle, Eric. “Ecology and the Canticle of Brother Sun.” New Blackfriars, vol. 55, no. 652, pp. 392-402.

Earle, Rebecca. “‘If You Eat Their Food...’ Diets and Bodies in Early Colonial Spanish America.” American Historical Review, vol. 115, no. 3, 2010, pp. 688-713.

Fischer, Bob. “Bugging the Strict Vegan.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 29, no. 2, 2016, pp. 255-63.

García, Maria Elena. Gastropolitics and the Specter of Race: Stories of Capital, Culture, and Coloniality in Peru. U of California P, 2021.

Grasse, Alexis. “The Impact of Anthropocentrism on Christian Environmentalism.” Dialogue & Nexus, vol. 3, 2015-16, pp. 1-9.

Grebowicz, Margret. Whale Song. Bloomsbury, 2017.

Haraway, Donna. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City 1908-1936.” Social Text, no. 11, 1984, pp. 20-64.

Harrison, Peter. “Linnaeus As a Second Adam? Taxonomy and the Religious Vocation.” Zygon, vol. 44, no. 4, 2009, pp. 879-93.

hooks, bell. “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance.” Black Looks: Race and Representation, South End Press, pp. 21-39.

Hui, Alexandra. “Imagining Ecologies through Sound: An Historic-ecological Approach to the Soundscape of the Mississippi Flyway.” MUSICultures, vol. 45, no. 1-2, pp. 35-52.

Jackson, Zakiyyah Iman. Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. New York UP, 2020.

Jamili, Leila Barandaran, and Sara Khoshkam. “Interrelation/Coexistence between Human/Nonhuman in Nature: William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.” Advances in Language and Literary Studies, vol. 8, no. 4, 2017, pp. 14-20.

Jones, Aaron R. Interview with author. 19 April 2022.

---. Email communication with author. 5 December 2022.

Jones, Alisha Lola. “Ultrasonic Tastemakers: Towards a Critical Gastromusicology.” Presentation at the Annual Meeting for the Society of Ethnomusicology, New Orleans, LA, 2022.

Hilton, Nelson. “Blake’s Early Works.” The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, edited by Morris Eaves, Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 191-209.

Kearns, Laurel. “Saving the Creation: Christian Environmentalism in the United States.” Sociology of Religion, vol. 57, no. 1, 1996, pp. 55-70.

Khuong, Thang M., Qiao-Ping Wang, John Manion, Lisa J. Oyston, Man-Tat Lau, Harry Towler, Yong Qi Lin, and G. Gregory Neely. “Nerve Injury Drives a Heightened State of Vigilance and Neuropathic Sensitization in Drosophila.” Science Advances, vol. 5, no. 7, 2019, pp. 1-12.

Kim, Claire Jean. Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age. Cambridge UP, 2015.

Kritsky, Gene. “An Historical Analysis of Periodical Cicadas in Indiana (Homoptera: Cicadidae).” Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, vol. 97, 1987, pp. 295-322.

---. “Gideon B. Smith: America’s Forgotten Entomologist.” American Entomologist, vol. 66, no. 4, 2020, pp. 49-53.

---. “One for the Books: The 2021 Emergence of the Periodical Cicada Brood X.” American Entomologist, vol. 67, no. 4, 2021, pp. 40-46.

Lesnik, Julie J. “The Colonial/Imperial History of Insect Food Avoidance in the United States.” Annals of the Entomological Society of America, vol. 112, no. 6, 2019, pp. 560-65.

Littleherds.org. “10th Annual Austin Bug (Eating) Festival.” https://www.littleherds.org/staging/3689/sample-page/events/10th-annual-austin-bug-eating-festival. Accessed 1 September 2023.

Looy, Heather, Florence V. Dunkel, and John R. Wood. “How Then Shall We Eat? Insect-eating Attitudes and Sustainable Foodways.” Agriculture and Human Values, vol. 31, 2014, pp. 131-41.

Lussier, Mark S. “Blake’s Deep Ecology.” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 35, no. 3, 1996, pp. 393-408.

Mason, Kaley. “The Vernacular Vitality of Foodways and Activist Songwriting in Kerala.” Presentation at the Annual Meeting for the Society of Ethnomusicology, New Orleans, LA, 2022.

Mundy, Rachel. “Evolutionary Categories and Musical Style from Adler to America.” Journal of the American Musicological Society, vol. 67, no. 3, 2014, pp. 735-68.

---. “Museums of Sound: Audio Bird Guides and the Pleasures of Knowledge.” Sound Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 2016, pp. 52-68.

Nieder, Andreas. “Honey Bees Zero in on Empty Set.” Science, vol. 360, no. 6393, 2018, pp. 1069-70.

Payne, Roger, and Scott McVay. “Songs of Humpback Whales.” Science, vol. 173, no. 3997, 1971, pp. 585-597.

Peralta, Eyder. “Making the Best Out of Invasion, Missouri Shop Makes Cicada Ice Cream.” NPR, 2011, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2011/06/07/137042196/making-the-best-out-of-invasion-missouri-shop-makes-cicada-ice-cream. Accessed 1 December 2022.

Perdue, Robert Todd. “Eating Insects and Tourism: Ethical Challenges in a Changing World.” Tourism Experiences and Animal Consumption: Contested Values, Morality and Ethics, edited by Carol Kline, Routledge, 2018, pp. 73-86.

Polzonzetti, Pierpalo. Feasting and Fasting in Opera: From Renaissance Banquets to the Callas Diet. U of Chicago P, 2021.

Pringle, J.W. S. “A Physiological Analysis of Cicada Song.” Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 31, no. 4, 1954, pp. 525-60.

Rice, Marlin E. “Fried Green Cicadas and a Young African Hunter.” American Entomologist, vol. 46, no. 1, 2000, pp. 2-7.

Riley, Charles. “The Song-Notes of the Periodical Cicada.” Science, vol. 6, no. 138, 1885, pp. 264-65.

Rothenberg, David. Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise. Picador, 2013.

Schrader, J., D.G.A.B Oonincx, and M.P. Ferreira. “North American Entomophagy.” Journal of Insects as Food and Feed, vol. 2, no. 2, 2016, pp. 111-20.

Simmons, James A., Ernest Glen Wever, and Joseph M. Pylka. “Periodical Cicada: Sound Production and Hearing.” Science, vol. 171, no. 3967, 1971, pp. 212-13.

Smith, Matthew R., Valerie J. Stull, Jonathan A. Patz, and Samuel S. Myers. “Nutritional and Environmental Benefits of Increasing Insect Consumption in Africa and Asia.” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 16, no. 6, 2021, pp. 1-18.

Special Passenger Records. Cicada Summer, 2011, https://specialpassenger.bandcamp.com/album/cicada-summer, Accessed 20 April 2022.

Spyres, Michael, Tara Stafford-Spyres, Steuart Pincombe, Aaron Jones, and Aaron Marshall. Little Lamb, Little Cicada. Bandcamp, https://radiopirates.bandcamp.com/album/little-lamb-little-cicada. Accessed 1 September 2023.

Titon, Jeff Todd. “An Ecological Approach to Folklife Studies, Expressive Culture, and Environment.” Performing Environmentalisms: Expressive Culture and Ecological Change, edited by John Holmes McDowell, Katherine Borland, Rebecca Dirksen, and Sue Tuohy, Illinois UP, 2021, pp. 163-188.

Van Dooren, Thom. The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds. Columbia UP, 2019.

Zhan, Mei. “Civet Cats, Fried Grasshoppers, and David Beckham’s Pajamas: Unruly Bodies After SARS.” American Anthropologist, vol. 107, no. 1, 2005, pp. 31-42.

Top of page

Notes

1 Though commonly pronounced like the 24th letter of the alphabet, “Brood X” refers to the Roman numeral “10,” identifying the particular population of cicadas that is located primarily in Indiana and Ohio.

2 Fortunately, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended an app to help users determine when cicada chorusing was so loud as to be unsafe (Kritsky“One for the Books” 45).

3 Cicadas, and their attendant noise, have also been involved in national politics on multiple occasions. In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech that was nearly drowned out by the sound of the cicadas; in 2021, President Joseph Biden faced the same problem, saved only by the audio technology’s ability to project his voice more broadly (Kritsky “One for the Books” 42). President Biden was also foiled by the cicadas on June 8th, 2021, when periodical cicadas flying into the auxiliary power unit of a chartered press jet grounded the aircraft, causing a delay that required a second jet to replace it (Kritsky “One for the Books”42).

4 Jones notes that they sold 600 tacos, in addition to the numerous other items available, suggesting that total attendance may have been significantly higher (email communication with author, December 5th, 2022).

5 This trend towards crowd-sourcing reflected broader currents in public engagement with the 2021 Brood X emergence that differed from previous years. The apps iNaturalist and “Cicada Safari,” created by the Center for IT Technology at Mount St. Joseph University (Kritsky, “One For The Books” 42) allowed users to upload images or sound recordings, which would be submitted for verification and then marked on a digital map. Interested observers could track the movement of the brood throughout various parts of the United States over the duration of the emergence. Though new, these applications mimic a long history of periodical cicada tracking, which has been documented since the 1800s through techniques such as newspaper letter writing campaigns (Kritsky, “Gideon B. Smith”: 50).

Top of page

References

Electronic reference

Julianne Graper, “All Creatures Yum!!”: Cicada Mania in Southern IndianaEuropean journal of American studies [Online], 19-1 | 2024, Online since 07 February 2024, connection on 20 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/21464; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejas.21464

Top of page

About the author

Julianne Graper

Julianne Graper (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in Ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington. Her work focuses on human-animal relationality through sound in Austin, TX and elsewhere. Graper’s writing can be found in Sound StudiesMUSICultures; and the edited collections Sounds, Ecologies, Musics (2023); Behind the Mask: Vernacular Culture in the Time of COVID (2023); and Songs of Social Protest (2018). Her translation of Alejandro Vera’s The Sweet Penance of Music (2020) received the Robert M. Stevenson award from the American Musicological Society.

Top of page

Copyright

CC-BY-4.0

The text only may be used under licence CC BY 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search