The Candied Bug Machine at HMNS Was Not Removed Because of an Anti-Semitic Flat Earth Conspiracy Theory

Down in the basement of the Cockrell Butterfly Center in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, there used to be a very unique vending machine. It sold only edible bug treats like lollipops with real scorpions embedded in them. It was a neat way to learn about humanity’s long history of eating bugs. The combination snack dispensary/educational installment was so cool that I encouraged noted bug candy aficionado Lights to stop by and see it when she was on tour here last year.

It’s a good thing she didn’t take me up on that offer, though. At some point around COVID, the machine disappeared. I always wondered what happened to it, but never gave it much thought.

Then, I stumbled across one of the most bizarre stories on Not Always Right, which is saying something. The website lets people submit stories of bad customer experiences, and I read it every single day. Weirdoes and racists are pretty common, though Houston is definitely underrepresented on the site. This one caught my eye because it clearly mentions the bug vending machine. The story was submitted on April 21, 2022.

Old Lady: “Why do you sell bugs in candy?”

Coworker: “We have a vending machine that has scorpion pops, chocolate crickets, and other candied insects because they’re good for the environment and tasty.”

Old Lady: “But don’t you know that the Jews are making people eat bugs to turn the world flat?”

Granted, I can’t verify this exchange. Unless the original poster shows up in the comments, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find them to follow-up. There are plenty of tall tales on the site, but this one was so specific about being in a Houston museum it seemed unlikely to be made up out of whole cloth.

To be very, very clear, Jewish people are not trying to get people to eat bugs. Entomophagy is practiced by 2 billion people worldwide as part of thousands of different cultural traditions. Humans have been eating bugs since prehistory. So, if eating bugs would make the world flat, it probably would have done so by now.

There is even Biblical precedent for bug eating. Leviticus encourages people to consume grasshoppers, and John the Baptist lived on locusts and honey (which is really just eating bug vomit) while he was in the desert.

Scorpions and mealworms, however, are not edible by Jewish kosher traditions. Maybe that’s part of the plot? No idea.

The conspiracy theory, though weird, is fairly well-documented. Though more prevalent in Europe, there are some American conspiracy pushers like Michael Knowles who claim that “elites” are trying to get people to eat bugs for some sinister purpose. Even Prager U has gotten in on it. Because of synchronism, all the random New World Order and anti-Semitic aspects of the conspirasphere get lumped together with the bug-eating part. Flat Earther beliefs have always required an elite cabal to maintain their fiction. Put all that nonsense in a blender and hit puree, and you can see how someone might look at the vending machine and see an Illuminati plot.

The story got me wondering if the HMNS decided to get rid of the machine to prevent further weird encounters like this. The museum already has creationists annoying them. Who would blame them for removing something in the chilled-out butterfly center to keep the peace?

Turns out the reason was more practical.

“They were. . .phased out in lieu of selling similar items in our Museum Store for logistical reasons – i.e. to ensure they could be restocked more properly, refunds could be processed much easier for our customers, more variety offered in our Museum Store, etc.,” Director of Public Relations Sami Mesawri told us via email. “Plus, it’s easier to observe what items are popular with our guests when they are offered at the Museum Store instead, like our bug food which we get from multiple vendors. From a practicality and customer service standpoint, it made more sense to pivot towards selling items in our Museum Store instead.”

Mystery solved. Neat as the bug snacks machine was, it was also just too much of a pain in the ass to stock. Also, the museum is clearly not bending under the weight of wild conspiracy nonsense. The snacks are still sold, and the museum even expanded the entomophagy aspect in 2022.

“Last October, there was an event at the museum called Bug Bites, where a chef cooked food using the bugs sold in the Museum Store, and our guests really enjoyed that,” says Mesawri.