“I don’t eat bugs”, was the text response from my friend Shelly when I mentioned the bug and wine pairing event at Spaces Gallery. I admit, the thought of an evening of bug eating made me feel like a contestant on Fear Factor. But this is a brand new year, and why not try something new?
Spaces planned this edible cricket tasting event to coincide with their exhibit from The People’s Museum of Revisionist Natural Itstory about seeking narrative justice, by confronting and questioning norms perpetuated through our culture. The exhibit also speaks to the viewer, as a consumer of culture and information, to question those norms and ‘not readily accept them as facts.’ The evening’s cricket experience was designed to address those concepts, as well as illuminate issues of sustainability in a meat and potatoes culture.
Big Cricket Farms, founded in 2014 by Kevin Bachhuber, is aiming to corner the gourmet protein market, as “America’s first urban cricket farm.” According to their site, crickets are a sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources, such as beef. Crickets are a tasty (?), cost effective way to have your protein and crunch it, too. These crickets are quite different than the ones I occasionally see my cat take down. Slightly smaller in size, the Tropical Banded Cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus) are an edible variety having the identical nutritional components to their larger counterparts. Since you are what you eat, Big Cricket edible crickets are fed a diet of organic grains and fruit and vegetables. A happy meal, indeed.
Stacked up against other sources of protein (grams/100 g), including beef and seafood, insects provided a huge nutritional punch; with Chapulines (Mexican grasshopper) coming in the heaviest hitter with 35-48%. Beef paled in comparison at only 10-15%. Chapulines are harvested only a few times a year and after being cleansed, are toasted with lime juice, salt, agave worm extract and, occasionally, chili.
Insects are rich in essential nutrients, vitamins( with the exception of B12~ beef won in this category); minerals such as copper, sodium, iron, zinc and potassium, and rich in amino acids.
In the video presentation of Kevin Bachhuber’s TEDx talk, he explained the importance of biodiversity, especially in food sourcing. He explained and how consuming insects (namely crickets) makes for a more humane way of acquiring sustenance while maintaining a healthy ecological footprint. Insects emit far fewer greenhouse gasses than livestock, and consume much less water.
So now… time to eat. I knew I had to just dig in, and take a bite. Over-thinking just made me more squeamish. In the salsa, with crunchy chips, they weren’t too bad: The crunch of the chips masked the crunch of …well you get it. I began to feel brave at this point. Then came the mac and cheese… with cricket sprinkled throughout. This made some of us at the table wince a little. But we knew what we’d signed up for, there was no going back. One of our table mates described the flavor as ‘wheat berry‘, and thought the crunch could be likened to the crunchy topping you’d find on any gourmet mac and cheese dish. Jay, a new friend, suggested the taste was like grain but fairly bland. I wondered then, if perhaps crickets functioned a little like tofu: Lots of bland goodness on its own, but taking on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. Shelly was not impressed. By the time dessert of caramel cricket apples and ice cream came around, most of the crickets remained uneaten on her plate. I give her full marks, she did try a few bites.
To be honest, at this event, the wine chosen for the pairings came in a distant second. It was all about the bug. And that was ok. Shelly and I enjoyed our 2012 Mercedes Eguren Cab Sauv. The rich blackberry essence provided a lovely light-acid balance to the creamy(and crunchy) mac and cheese.
As I pushed back from the table, I couldn’t help but admire this adventurous group as dinner came to a close. And given what we’d just eaten, the question, ‘is anything stuck in my teeth?’ had a whole different vibe.