I didn’t expect to spend my Thursday night eating insects, but I ended up at Alchemist’s Kitchen with a panel of proponents of entomophagy. I’m usually a vegetarian, but broke with that rule to try some insect-based offerings. I’m not sure if insects have consciousness or not, and I’d want more study on that before supporting entomophagy on a large scale, but I think it is both possible and beneficial to offset some of our dietary protein with insect protein. There are several argued benefits. One is environmental – insect production takes about three hundred times less water per unit protein than meat production. Another is ethical. While it could be the larger number of individuals per unit protein outweighs everything else, most people would say a single cricket is less capable of suffering than an individual cow.
It’s one thing to say it’s likely to be beneficial, another to argue that western society will accept eating insects when there is such a strong aesthetic prejudice against it. I felt it a little grossed out when eating the insects, but no more than I felt while eating particularly meat-like substitutes like the impossible burger.
The appetizers at the event were prepared by chef Joseph Yoon, and were delicious. Some of the bites had obvious crickets and wax worms on top, lending them some shock value. Others were subtle, with cricket flour (read: ground cricket) mixed in. The crickets tasted earthy or nutty, the I couldn’t taste the wax worms. I think it was just a coincidence, but I did end the evening with an upset stomach.
The event was hosted by Paul Miller, who pointed out the importance of less water and energy intensive farming methods in the context of global warming. One of the panelists, Robyn Shapiro, sells cricket-flour containing balls through her company Seek. I tried her coconut flavored cricket balls and liked them, they reminded me a bit of Lara Bars. Mitchell Joachim presented his work with Terreform ONE, an architecture firm based at New Lab. They designed a futuristic looking cricket shelter, which is a modular insect farm designed to both house the crickets and encourage mating with acoustic effects.
There are some specific benefits of eating insects I personally find interesting. I’ve been anemic since before I went vegetarian, and I struggle to get enough iron in my diet. Cricket flour contains over three times the iron as the same quantity of spinach, one of the richest vegetarian sources of iron. I can’t see entomophagy catching on without some major cultural shifts, but as the panelists noted, until recently lobster was once considered an undesirable food as well, so tastes change.