How did you get into the world of entomophagy?
I didn’t grow up thinking that I’d be an adult woman who plays around with dead bugs for fun. In fact, I used to have an irrational fear of ants as a child. But today I consider myself a professional cheerleader for the bug-trapreneurs that are changing the way we look at food. It all started back in the summer of 2012 when I went to Mexico to build health clinics as part of a Yale Public Health programme. I’ve always been an adventurous eater, and one evening I was given the chance to try grasshopper tacos. The rest is history.
Once home, I started Googling how to buy bugs in the US to scare my family. Purely impish intentions. At this time the edible bug industry was nowhere near as large as it is today, and not many resources existed online. I ended up calling the cricket farmers direct to find out more and fell in love with the community. They genuinely want to try to change the world for the better. Now I focus my efforts on public education programmes and marketing campaigns to be a voice for the industry. I host events like bug and wine pairings and insect dinners to get the word out.
Eating insects has been part of other cultures for centuries. Why are the US and UK only just catching up?
Bugs have a bad reputation for being gross, scary pests. They are the villains in horror movies and bearers of pestilence and disease. But instead of asking why eat bugs, we should be asking why not. There’s a reason over 2 billion people in the world eat bugs and have been for hundreds of years. They’re much more sustainable and nutritious than traditional forms of livestock. Although bugs are not the only solution to the nutritional needs of our growing population, they’re certainly the most provocative and have opened the door to sustained conversations about how what we eat impacts our bodies and our environment.
People in western societies have only just begun to explore the sustainable and nutritious benefits of eating bugs. While we’re comfortable eating sushi and lobster (foods which have their own ‘Cinderella’ stories), we cringe at the thought of dining on a cricket-based meal. Food is all about perception.
Why are insects healthy?
Insects are easier on the environment than traditional protein sources, packed with nutrition, and can taste great. The nutrients of bugs vary depending on the species and what they’re fed. If we compare 100g of crickets to 100g of beef, we might find the cricket has two to three times more protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, fibre and potassium, an ideal Omega 3:6 ratio, and all nine essential amino acids. Bugs are also naturally gluten-free and fit in the Paleo diet. Part of the reason insects pack such a nutritious punch is because we eat the whole critter instead of just the rib or flank of a cow. We obtain nutrients from all parts of the bugs, like their vitamin B12-filled exoskeletons.
What’s the environmental impact?
Choose any food metric: gallons of water, CO2 equivalents of greenhouse gases, acres of land, feed-conversion-ratio comparisons, and insects come out ahead of traditional livestock like beef. Bugs are cold-blooded, meaning they don’t waste energy converting feed into body heat. Bugs eat around 12 times less food than cows, produce 100 times less CO2, take 1,000 times less water to raise, and can be grown anywhere. To put this in perspective, a pound of beef takes about 2,000 gallons of water in total to get from the farm to your table. A pound of crickets takes only one gallon of water.
Do you think 2019 is the year bugs on menus will go mainstream?
There are two things everybody hates: change and the way things are. There’s an art to making people comfortable with change, a powerful force that spurs innovation, creation and fuels our survival. The work I do involves opening people’s minds and mouths to the idea of eating bugs. This means I’m constantly on the hunt for new ways to get people outside of their comfort zone and on friendly terms with the forces of change.
Beyond clever marketing and less-intimidating consumer products, getting more chefs involved will be critical to the public’s education around and acceptance of bugs as ingredients. Throughout the years, a variety of rebranding attempts have been made but none have stuck yet. Locusts have been referred to as ‘sky-prawns’ and others have said things like, “The only thing that makes a grasshopper different from a shrimp is that it can fly.”
While we still may be far away from a future where bugs are as common an ingredient as scallops, there are companies taking an approach I refer to as ‘trojan horse marketing’. They recognise that while our minds may have evolved, our eyes have not. The mere sight of a cold-blooded, six-legged, exoskeleton-covered micro-livestock on a plate is still a source of revulsion. Instead, companies in the edible bug space are getting creative and offering products made of things like cricket powder, an inoffensive, benign form. Companies like Chirps Chips are selling gluten-free protein-enhanced crisps made from crickets. Others are applying food science to insect proteins to create beef-textured lookalikes like ‘Hop Dogs’ or ‘Bug Burgers’. The one I'm currently most excited for is Paradox Protein: they've taken this a step further and put insects into pills.
I think we're close. 2019 might be the year. But we need chefs to get educated and excited about the treasure chest of new flavours that await them if they decide to cook with bugs.
Which are your favourite insects to eat?
Right now, I'm in love with black ants. The natural formic acid in black ants gives them a peppery-citrus flavour that really pops. They're actually delicious. I call them the caviar of the bug world. My staples will always be Oaxacan-style chapulines (seasoned grasshoppers), BBQ mealworms and scorpions.
What’s the easiest way to incorporate bugs into your everyday diet?
Cricket protein powder can be mixed into anything: chocolate chip cookies, pancakes, smoothies, you name it. I like sprinkling ants or mealworms into my salads – it’s a perfect flavour and texture boost. I also think Paradox Protein's cricket pills are an easy hit.