Portland’s reputation for amazing food and the innovations that its restaurants have made is quite positive, but Portland is falling behind in modern food trends. A not so new trend is sweeping the streets: BUGS. The dormant tradition of eating our crawling friends is making a comeback in America. And not surprisingly there is backlash on the concept, but what many of us have forgotten is that the eating of bugs is, if anything, going back to our roots. Even still the wonders of our tasty insects never cease; these creepy critters could be the future of sustainably sourced protein bringing a new outlook on the sustainable world.
Insects are being integrated into household meals as sustainable substitutes for protein. Cricket flour, or cricket powder, is a mild-tasting protein powder made out of milled crickets. The crickets come from cricket farms, and in contrast to feedlots (which are for raising and slaughtering cows), cricket farms use less feed and generate fewer greenhouse gases per kilogram protein harvested, creating a more sustainably sourced and healthier mode of protein. The cricket flour production and distribution company EXO states that “like a cricket, cricket powder is a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fatty acids. But unlike a cricket, cricket flour looks nothing like an insect. Still, 100% cricket powder is basically a whole food. All nutrients are preserved.” Using cricket flour is a great gateway into starting to eat what American culture would see as more exotic foods like whole insects. For example, the company Chirps is an online based business that provides protein powder and chips with cricket flour integrated into its ingredients. Called Chirp Chips, they’re the company’s leading product, and other than the fact that it says Cricket on the front label of the bag, they’re indistinguishable from corn chips. The website also claims there is little to no taste difference, but just as EXO claims, there is an exponential increase of protein. Their secondary product is a protein powder that you can put into smoothies, protein shakes, and a variety of other beverages.
The internet presence of insects in food is the main stir of the pot in terms of advertisement and consumer awareness. But it’s not just a couple of one-off business ventures; popular food magazines such as Epicurious and Bon Appétit have articles raving about the new food trend sweeping the West. Epicurious’s article titled “Eat Bugs: The explorers Club Dinner Revised” by Micheal Y. Park shows readers a large picture of a tarantula scaling a man’s forearm, a sight that would turn many away. This becomes a scarily fascinating image when considering that with some time and the proper chef, that arachnid would soon become a meal. The well known magazine Bon Appétit has produced an online cookbook named “Healthy-ish” that has enlisted 29 chefs to create an array of tasty meals, snacks, and desserts with the key ingredient of crickets. It contains recipes such as “Charred Cauliflower Cricket Hummus” and “Chocolate Cricket Pie with Candied Cacao Nibs.” Chef Gabe Kennedy, creator of the cricket hummus, states in his explanation of inspiration that “there’s a mental hurdle for most Americans: how do you take this nutty, earthy, funky ingredient and present it in a way that works? If you’re feeding something to a kid you put it in a purée — So we did that. It’s an entry point to a conversation. And it’s shareable so you are sharing the experience” The vast world wide web is the initial starting point for our delicious creepy crawly friends, and once we take the leap to try this seemingly foreign food, we share the experience to make a ripple effect and make insects a normality in food.
Portland is known for its good food and inclusive culture. So why are we so reluctant to eat bugs? America has put a cultural taboo on and around a concept that is a quite normal aspect of life in many cultures other than our own. As National Geographic article “For most people, eating bugs is only natural” by Sharon Guynup says, “ten thousand years ago hunters and gatherers ate bugs to survive,” so this is nothing new. The need for insects is just the inner nomad calling to us. In the Old Testament, it is said that John the Baptist survived in the desert by eating exclusively locusts and honey and advised others to do so. Aristotle recorded that “the larva of the cicada on attaining full size in the ground becomes a nymph; then it tastes best, before the husk is broken. At first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs.” Bugs, specifically crickets, locusts, and their larvae, are nothing new to the world. And yet despite its long tradition—and current favor among at least half of the world’s peoples—eating insects is still rare, not to mention taboo, in the United States and Europe.
There is still a long way to go before Portland is fully acquainted with the insect-eating lifestyle, but as Gabe Kennedy said, we need to share the experience that is bugs. If we’ve done it before we can do it again! So go for it! Dig in! Bug Appétit!