By Mary Sprague
Elm Staff Writer
Crickets were on the menu last Friday, Feb. 17, as part of “The New Face of Farm to Table: Insects on the Menu,” an event sponsored by the Center for Environment and Society (CES). The goal of this event was to increase awareness about the viability of insects as a sustainable food source and an alternative form of protein.
The series took place over three days, from Wednesday, Feb. 15 to Friday, Feb. 17. Two documentaries were shown: “Bugs: A Gastronomic Adventure with Nordic Food Lab,” which highlighted the prevalence of insects as food sources worldwide; and “Bugs on the Menu,” which focused on the North American perspective.
The culmination of Insects on the Menu was the serving of cricket tacos at the dining hall Friday night, followed by a talk from co-founder of Entomo Farms, Jarrod Goldin. Entomo Farms is a Canadian insect farm that sells snack foods, garnishes, flours, and powders produced from crickets and mealworms.
Insects on the Menu was conceived and largely driven by Anthropology Department Chair Dr. Bill Schindler, who had previous success with a similar event two years ago. Friday night, he hand-prepared the cricket tacos that were served in the dining hall. Additionally, student-created apricot ginger cricket flour scones were served.
Insects, although smaller, are abundant and easily farmed because they require less land than traditional forms of protein. Additionally, they are higher in nutrients than most traditional proteins.
Jamie Frees, Class of 2012 and outreach and intern coordinator for CES, had an instrumental voice in the creation and execution of Insects on the Menu.
“[Crickets] are really high [in] nutrients, so your body is getting a lot more out of that as a protein source,” she said.
According to “Bugs: A Gastronomic Adventure with Nordic Food Lab,” in addition to being a healthy alternative to traditional meats, insects may help address global hunger. With the population exponentially rising with no sign of slowing, there is a dire need for sustainable food production. Although the problem of hunger cannot be solved solely by adding bugs to the mass market, the diversity it would foster could help to create a more stable and sustainable production system.
“If humans are eating healthy and sustainably,” Frees said, “then it’s only better for the environment. … It takes much less land to produce crickets, and there’s also a lot of protein in a much smaller amount, so you’re able to feed more people.”
Don Stanwick, the director of Dining Services, said, “[The crickets] are more sustainable, and something that we do have. We’ve seen in the past where there’s been issues with the amount of chicken that we can get, or beef that you can get … it’s something that is an alternative for someone to try … and do something different with.”
According to entomofarms.com, for the average consumer, insects can be found in a variety of options, flavors, and stores; Frees even said that Whole Foods now sells roasted crickets. Additionally, Entomo’s online store offers a vast selection of seasoned crickets and mealworms, cricket and mealworm powders, and cricket flour. This flour can be used practically interchangeably with regular flour, and was used to make the student-recipe scones for Friday’s event.
“Cricket flour is available to the average consumer if you go and look in specialty stores,” Stanwick said. “[Roasted crickets] are becoming a little more prevalent.”
Despite their growing legitimacy and relevance, insects still are not considered food by most. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO), an international organization fighting global hunger and issues with the security of food production, there are about 1,462 edible insects. Insects are eaten widely across the globe in different communities, and are even considered delicacies. Yet, the western world is hesitant
“We always say try something new, you never know what you’re going to think of it or how you’re going to like it,” Stanwick said. “A lot of people, when they try sushi for the first time, what goes through your mind, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m eating raw fish.’ And then people try it, and they either like it or they don’t like it.”
“‘Often what we do or don’t consider “food” is really just a state of mind,’” Frees said, quoting from “Bugs on the Menu.” “So, for thousands of years people have been eating bugs all over the world; there’s a 130-some countries still eating bugs.… So, what happened in history [when] some people stopped eating bugs, and how do we revert back to a culture that finds that acceptable?”
Although the dining hall is not likely to serve bugs daily, they are looking forward to a partnership with the newly created Eastern Shore Food Lab, where Dr. Schindler will be the first director. The Food Lab will be a fourth Signature Center for the College, and will help foster sustainability and bolster local farms and food sources.
Insects on the Menu shone a light on the food industry, the existing under-explored alternatives, and the benefit of sustainability through biodiversity. Students were encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new, and many were delighted with what they discovered.