Alex Guljas bites a roasted mealworm in December. The snack was made by Scott Bundy, a professor of entomology at New Mexico State University who notes that most of the world uses insects as a staple food. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
LAS CRUCES – Few students in Professor Scott Bundy’s Insects, Humans, and Environment class at New Mexico State University were squeamish as they approached an auditorium stage laden with chocolate-coated and fried crickets and fried and live mealworms that they did wanted to try.
Most realized that if they weren’t trying the food of the future, they were at least trying the food of the moment.
“The main thing for them is to try it,” said Bundy as he carried the insect dishes he’d made from his office to the nearby auditorium.
“I get a surprising number of students who try,” he said. The focus is on “explaining to people how important insects are so that they understand them”.
A sophomore from Las Cruces, Alex Guljas tried the fried and chocolate crickets and fried mealworms and considered chewing the live mealworms after hearing Bundy’s talk on the consumption of insects in many cultures.
The judgment? “Pretty good, except for the texture maybe. The texture is a little strange, but the taste is perfectly okay. They’re actually pretty good, ”said Guljas.
“It’s doing pretty well,” said Bundy over the insect collecting board. “Chocolate seems like the easiest way for people to accept things.”
Vianney Zamora, a student at NMSU, gets ready to try a sauteed cricket. Crickets seem to be the most popular food bug. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)
Future droughts and the fact that less water is needed to grow insect-based protein compared to animal protein mean that insects could be the food of the future.
Insect-based dishes are popping up on restaurant menus, including the upscale Sazón in Santa Fe, which offers chapulines – barbecues – served by their Mexico City chef. The restaurant said it won’t have any on the menu until March.
In Raton, an entrepreneur plans to open a cricket farm for food production in a 55,000 square meter greenhouse.
New stadium snack bar
A sports stadium is no longer just about peanuts, cracker jacks and hot dogs. At Seattle Mariners T-Mobile Park, roasted grasshoppers or chapulines have been “one of the best-selling concession items” since 2017, according to an article on MLB.com.
Steve Dominguez, general manager of the stadium’s hospitality partner, Centerplate, wanted more local food from Seattle restaurants and wanted a grocery item for the newly opened Edgar’s Cantina on the left mezzanine, the article said.
Step into Poquitos Mexican restaurant in Oaxaca, where chapulines were very popular. “There was also some cultural significance involved, as chapulines have long been served at Latin American sporting events,” the article says.
Twenty pounds were ordered and sold out at the 2020 Home Opener. Dominguez is known today as the “Grashopper godfather”.
Acceptance in the flow
Western cultures have been slow to accept insect-based foods as part of the human diet, but it is slowly gaining acceptance.
“Most of the world uses insects as part of their diet,” said Bundy, professor of entomology and director of the NMSU Arthropod Collection.
“Indians used insects as part of their diet, especially in the west. The English or European influence didn’t accept that too well, ”said Bundy.
Western cultures may warm to insects, although the “tipping point” can be left to the younger generations.
“It’s kind of a dynamic thing that is going on. Edible insects are indigenous food on every continent, ”said Associate Professor Florence Dunkel from the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology at Montana State University in Bozeman.
“We currently estimate that 2 billion people, a third to a quarter of the world’s population, regularly eat insects,” she said. “Because they’re so nutritious and easy to collect.”
The beetles have a certain snack appeal to Kalli Sparks of Carlsbad, another of Bundy’s students. Insects could become part of their daily diet.
“I feel like the fried ones would make a good snack every now and then, they’re full of protein so I don’t understand why not.” She tried the fried crickets, which she said tasted almost like sunflower seeds.
Already in your food
Florence Dunkel, Associate Professor of Entomology in the Department of Plant Science and Plant Pathology, works in her laboratory at Montana State University in Bozeman. (Courtesy Florence Dunkel)
Many may not know that insects are already widely used as food.
The scene “is changing dramatically,” said Dunkel.
“I’ve been following this here in Montana for 30 years and partly on a national level … it’s not just the environmental factor, but also the nutritional factor that is causing this change. And it’s also caused by more chefs, more restaurants using insects, and more insect products available in grocery stores, “she said.
Dunkel said a grocery store up the street has a potato chip called chirps – made from cricket flour – and another has insect protein bars.
Bundy agrees, citing protein powder as a product that makes crickets fly under the radar.
“It takes a long time to assert yourself. Over the past few years, you’ve seen it grow in popularity, especially with things that really don’t look like insects, ”said Bundy.
Crickets appear to be the most popular beetle in food.
Grizzly bears, which are common in some parts of Montana, get some protein calories by snacking on hordes of flying beetles before winter.
“The species that fly around are actually eaten by grizzly bears just before they hibernate, so we know other animals are good at finding the most nutritious food they need,” said Dunkel.
She said grizzly bears hunt cutworm moths in Montana.
“They collect them in great numbers,” said Dunkel. “They huddle together in large groups, the moths are grown up, and the grizzly bears can catch them.”
According to experts, the reason why Western cultures are often reluctant to accept insect foods is cultural mores.
“People are chief – they are considered to be the top of the hierarchy of living things, and children are not taught that interrelationship,” said Dunkel.
“It’s not taught that insects are usually useful. So if something creeps and even looks like an insect, we teach our kids to smash it and keep it out of the house, keep it out of our food,” she said.
Bundy agrees that long-held beliefs about insects have slowed the public’s acceptance of insects as food.
“There’s probably more than one reason,” he said. “Most people think insects are dirty or pathogenic; people don’t like what they’re not used to. Lobsters used to be the food of the poor. “
People tend to forget the positive aspects of the insect world.
“Indigenous peoples are taught to observe and see and understand that insects can be useful, in fact most insects are useful, very few cause harm. That, in my opinion, is the source of the disgust. So it’s a cultural thing, ”said Dunkel.
In a straightforward and serious tone, Dark outlined a brave new insect world of the future.
“It doesn’t matter whether we eat insects, we have to,” said Dunkel. “We cannot survive on this planet if we continue to use beef … as the main source of protein,” she said.
“Water is a small commodity in New Mexico,” she said. “It takes 2,600 gallons of water to grow a pound of beef,” but “It takes a gallon to grow a pound of edible cricket meat, and if you grow the crickets with waste food in front of the consumer, that number goes to zero.”