Welcome to the second episode of Grist Test Kitchen, where we taste green, wacky, and (hopefully) edible foodstuffs that may or may not be a part of a more sustainable future. After whetting our appetites with organic food-replacement drink Ambronite last episode, this time around we decided to channel some hakuna matata spirit and dig into the wild world of entomophagy.
To help us get in the mood, we invited the Bug Chef (science writer and edible-insect pioneer David George Gordon) to the Grist office to whip up a meal that would be both easy on the planet and on the palate. Hey, if he could make Conan O’Brien eat a cockroach, we figured he could get us to do just about anything.
Why we picked it: In the good old days, a single roach in the kitchen was enough to shut down a restaurant; now, it seems just as likely to open one, as foodies coast to coast are swarming to Mexican moth-larvae food trucks and Indian cricket cafés. It’s a fad — but so was sushi, and now Americans can salivate over raw fish anywhere from a five-star restaurant to the aisles of your local Safeway.
Foodies aren’t the only ones with bugs on the brain. Last year, the UN released a report suggesting that we’d all be better off if we could learn to love the bug. Unlike warm-blooded cows and pigs, insects don’t need to burn a lot of energy to stay warm (nor do they leak methane like it’s their job) so they can efficiently pack on the pounds without taking up much food, space, or water (or gassing the planet).
With world population headed to 9 billion and only so much food and water to go around, wouldn’t it be great if a plague of locusts were a boon instead of famine’s advance guard? After all, 80 percent of countries already enjoy some form of creepy-crawly cuisine, while the rest of us are still gnawing on ribs and drumsticks like a bunch of cavemen.
So bugs are a plentiful, low-impact source of protein, sure, but do they taste good with barbecue sauce? (Life’s persistent questions, amirite?)
Initial observations: Sure, that bowl of raw crickets didn’t look too appetizing on its own, but once Gordon started frying onions in butter, we all perked up. Curious Grist staffers kept peeking in to see what was cooking and when they could eat it, whatever it was. (Just don’t look too closely at the various exoskeleton parts caking that spatula and your mouth may even start to water.)
Most favorable response: Executive Assistant Kirby Hollingsworth tentatively crunches a cricket, grimaces, then: “So salty — I like it!” Meanwhile, Web Developer Ben Shewmaker was quietly and enthusiastically chowing down. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he licked the bowl clean after.
Least favorable response: The real bug-haters must have been hiding, because the room as a whole was pretty gung-ho. Then again, Grist fellow Amber Cortes needed a chaser for her chapulin, though she claimed to like it anyway. Side-eye to that.
Verdict: Not slimy, and definitely satisfying! It’s true that some eaters, while cleaning out their bowls with gusto, still seemed to be avoiding eye contact with their food. Then again, you rarely have to make eye contact with a hot dog either — if you did, we’re guessing you’d be a little grossed out, too. (And we recommend you carry floss for your own forays into entomophagy.)
So will any of us start looking to mini-livestock for dinner? You still can’t exactly stroll into a Whole Foods on a casual Thursday evening to pick up some larvae and lettuce for supper. Access is eased a little by the internet, where companies like Austin-based World Ento are raising organic crickets and mealworms for human consumption, while bug pioneers like David George Gordon and Daniella Martin of Girl Meets Bug are out on the frontlines, turning these weird new ingredients into recipes for the everyday chef.
As delicious as this meal was, as as badly as we Americans need to wean ourselves off the meat-everything diet, we’re not sure these little guys are up to that gristly challenge.
Next up in Grist Test Kitchen: A forageable feast!