Posts Tagged ‘big cricket farms’

Some Things I Learned at the Eating Innovation Conference

September 4, 2014

Last week, I went up to Montreal to attend the conference, “Eating Innovation: The Art, Culture, Science and Business of Entomophagy,” put together by Alimentary Initiatives‘ Future Food Salon Group, founded by Dr. Aruna Handa Antonella.


Dr. Aruna Handa Antonella (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

It was an entire conference devoted to edible insects.

I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing a lot about edible insects, especially the business opportunity in the US.

So yeah, for me going to this conference was a little like the end of that Blind Melon video…


To encounter so many people who have very deep backgrounds in entomophagy–which for the most part is a pretty obscure and cringe-inducing practice in the West–was pretty cool.

Even though we all came from a variety of orientations (entomology, engineering, cultural studies, consumer products), we instantly bonded over our uniquely-shared appreciation for and understanding of entomophagy.

It seemed we were all so used to explaining to others why we should be eating bugs, it took us a day to realize that we didn’t need to this reflexive explaining at the conference. It was an unnecessary, but still comforting, preaching to the converted.

Sometimes, you just want an “Amen.” There were amens all around.

The conference was held in the Montreal Space for Life, which included a huge Botanical Garden, Insectarium, and Biodôme


Montréal Space for Life

It was a fitting and pristine setting. The Montréal Space for Life–having held their own entomophagy programs (cocktail hours, fundraising events)–were great hosts.

There were a cool booths at the conference, including…

photo 1

 Big Cricket Farms (Youngstown, Ohio), who launched their organic-grade mail-order crickets.

photo 2

Chilipines (Mexico City) had their Oaxacan-inspired cricket salsas and hot sauces.

photo 3

Third Millennium Farming debuted their snazzy cricket farms for home-growers.

photo 2

At the animanature booth (an entomophagy education program in Quebec), I was encouraged to hold a scorpion.

The program (which is good reading in of itself) describes the event’s ambitions as the following:

Eating Innovation offers those of us working in this emerging sector, and those of us interested in its development, the opportunity to come together to strategize about how best to fill research gaps, to lay the foundations, both strong and agile, and to establish standards with a view to building a food sector that is at once emerging and yet ancient, regional and yet global: a business opportunity fueled by imagination, hard work and innovation.

It definitely brought us together. But the challenges are pretty daunting as far as building an entire food sector.

I learned a ton. I and a few others tweeted out many compelling quotes and insights, which can be found on Twitter @ericbescak or with #ei2014, between August 26-28. I’ll elaborate on a few of those insights.

  • Globally entomophagy is decline. Despite the increasing interest entomophagy is getting in the West, it continues to be seen as a form of primitivism in developing countries. The educated class in those countries tend to dismiss entomophagy as a backwater practice, despite the substantial nutritional and environmental benefits the practice has for those countries most in need. As result, entomophagy is in global decline.  Colbert Report guest and the biggest entomophagy celebrity at the conference–David Gracer (founder for SmallStock Food Strategies)–commented on this trend: “That which can help the most is that which we hate the most.”


David Gracer (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

  • A lot to consider when building an industrial insect farm. Dr. Robert Kok–a professor in Bioresource Engineering at McGill University–began his engineering research in industrial-scale insect farming as a solution for food and nutrient recycling in long-term space travel. He has developed schematics and processes around industrial-scale insect farming and overviewed 8 interrelated and complex challenges to building an industrial-scale insect farming sector. He’s often called into consult to countries like China and Thailand–where large-scale insect farming is already big (and hush-hush) business. For industrial-scale insect husbandry, there will be factors to consider that usually don’t occur in traditional husbandry. “Your crop will escape,” he assured us. “Have a plan.” He described a comical/nightmarish scenario where a mass of cellulose-starved termites his students were growing, invaded (and ate) a nearby library. To get industrial scale insect farming underway, there will be some awkward events like this to prepare for. And you also have to think about the type of feed. Dennis Oonincx of Wageningen University in the Netherlands (which is ground zero for entomophogy research) reviewed his new research on how feed significantly influences bug nutritional content in unexpected ways. Depending on whether we want many or not as many but high-protein bugs, will influence what you feed them. For the few ento-entrepreurs in the crowd (like me), Dr. Kok had this to say, “I hope you have a lot of stamina. Some of you will make it.” It was a sobering note in an otherwise overly supportive environment.


Dr. Robert Kok (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

  • Overcoming food neophobias (before they start). Several presentations were devoted to the challenge I’m most interested in: how to encourage enough Americans to consume insects to make a edible insect business sustainable. Dr. Marianne Shockley of the University of Georgia introduced me to the term “food neophobia”  to describe the resistance to new foods. (I’m looking forward to trotting out “don’t be such a food neophobic” the next time I try to serve superworm tempura to resistant guests.) Dr. John Wood–professor of Biology & Environmental Studies at The King’s University, Edmonton–spoke to the important appeals we need to make to the imagination of eaters, as well as the importance of using edible insects to express hospitality (and not to elicit shock). He also noted how Oceanspray was able to create an entire market for cranberries–which is now big business in Wisconsin. But where cranberries are just another fruit in an established market, edible insects is an entirely new food category already mired by negative associations. To lower those barriers, insects scan be incorporated in the social role that food plays. Furthermore, the positive associations that insects do have (in children’s literature, for example) can be mobilized to help promote a nurturing image. Dr. Don Sudbrink at Austin Paey State in Tennessee advised simply, “Get them while they’re young.”


Dr. John Wood (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

There was a creative component to the gathering, with artwork and installations supporting a creative atmosphere. The Marjan Verstappen and Han Zhang’s Chrysalis was the centerpiece, suggesting how this gathering might be a gestation for new ideas, from which we’ll burst forth as entomophagy-spreading butterflies…or something like that.

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We’ll become beautiful butterflies… 

And finally, there was definitely a food component as well. We had crickets and mealworms in a variety of ways…in salsas, salads, empanadas, rice, pesto. They were offered throughout the conference, at a cocktail hour, and as part of a 9-course solar-system-themed dinner.  Here’s me compromised in an food pic, again courtesy of the ever-present Jan Keck.


My mouth, hands (Photo credit: Jan Keck) 

Many more of Jan’s awesome pics of the food, people, and events at the Eating Innovation conference can be seen on the Alimentary Initiatives gallery.


I was in the news over the weekend…

September 2, 2014

Over the weekend, The Capital Times published an article from a long, rambling conversation I had with food/culture reporter Lindsay Christians


Cap Times also put together a pretty cool image gallery for the few items I brought in. Lindsay was game to try the cookies, Cricket Canape, and Cricket Leather (the last 2 from Daniella Martin’s Edible). The Superworm Tempura (from David George Gordon’s great Eat-A-Bug Coookbook) although pretty awesome-tasting when freshly fried, had become a tepid room temperature. She understandably resisted the urge to try those.


Photo credit: Mike DeVries

Apart from wishing I still had my beard for the picture, I think it turned out pretty well. Although I’m not too comfortable with the title “entomophagist.”

Also, when she asked, “You said earlier that there are “so many good reasons” to eat bugs. Can you explain some?”

I responded, “Definitely environmental and nutritional reasons,” and then I go down a rabbit hole of feed conversion rates and agriculture stats to elaborate on the environmental benefits.

The “nutritional reasons” I spoke to in my overlong response were not included in the article. Although I’ve written about some of these benefits in previous posts (“Sustainable Paleo” and “No Mad Mealworm Disease“), I’ll add here the awesome table published in the UN Insect Food and Feed Report comparing the protein content of the most common edible insects and reptiles to that of cattle (as well as lobster, shrimp, and prawns).


Pound for pound, crickets, termites, silkworms, cicadas, and grasshoppers have equivalent offerings for protein to the red meat gold standard.

The UN report also has numbers on amino acid profiles, which also compare nicely.

Bonus: Where insects have comparable amounts of protein and amino acid offerings, the have comparably less–and even minimal–saturated fat. You can check out chapter 6 for all the details…

But, whateves. I do go on. I’m surprised how comprehensible the interview did come out, given how prone I am to digression. Admittedly, I was a little out of it from the bug party I hosted the night before.


Post-interview, mid-hangover selfie 

Some mentions were included for a lot of the folks and groups who have helped me so far in just the very early thinking and planning for a edible insect business, including…

Unfortunately, some important folks who have helped this along weren’t mentioned…and that may be their preference when it comes to a bug-eating article. Nonetheless, I’ll mention them here because they’re awesome.

  • Cheri Schweitzer, top-notch Madison restaurant consultant of Credible Consulting, food safety expert, and instructor for WWBIC’s very worthwhile “Business Planning for Your Food Business” whose Facebook post about trying some cricket cookies got the media attention that prompted the interview.
  • The Evening MBA Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in particular, the class of 2015, who have all been surprisingly game with the idea of a US entomophagy business and have provided thoughtful input and only occasional jokes.

And to my good friends and “very supportive” girlfriend who have bravely tried my few insect food experiments. Hopefully, they’ll get better. I’ll soon have a few pounds of homegrown mealworm to deal with.

Seriously, I need a brave, open-minded chef/food expert. Anyone know any?


My attempt at chocolate-covered crix were kind of a mess…


but the superworm tempura were awesomepants.

Why Eat Bugs #5: Apocalypse-Avoidance

August 7, 2014

download (2) In Daniella Martin’s hip treatise for eating bugs, Edible, she imagines a fantasy fast food restaurant where in addition to what you order, you also get the by-products of what it took to make your order. So when you get your burger, you also get…

  • 1,000 gallons of contaminated water
  • 4lbs of manure
  • The carbon residue from the use of 1 gallon of gas
  • 200 cubic ft of a feed lot that will take years to restore

Topped that off with a large toxic methane plume. Want to change your order? A McRib would also get you…

  • 600 gallons of contaminated water
  • 5lbs of pig shit
  • Smaller methane plume

Finally, a McNuggets 10-piece comes with…

  • 150 gallons of contaminated water
  • 1lb of feces
  • Less methane

This is all to say that our daily food choices have a significant environmental impact we do not appreciate.  And of course conventional animal protein production overall adds up to a huge impact on our land and water…

With a population set to grow almost 30% in the next 35 years, we’re going to need to double current food production (according to UN estimates). Not only is there not enough land to support this increase, the ecological impact to already-limited water resources would be devastating. Like Mad-Max-post-apocalyptic-water-wars-type devastating. mad-max What if we could increase food production while decreasing the environmental impact to land and water? Large-scale insect farming could be that solution. Although the exact numbers on the water to raise insects in a farm setting are unavailable (but Youngstown’s Big Cricket Farms may soon have answers…), it can be assumed they would be significantly lower. Consider the drought-resistance of mealworms and crickets. And consider Pat Crowley, a water conservationist who came up with his cricket energy bars—Chapul—to show how a protein source could be produced using minimal water resources. See their neat chart (and order some bars…Mark Cuban has…). waterconservationdiagram


Awesome chart by Nick Hiebert at the University of Manitoba



And then consider land use. Crickets don’t need to be grown on the prairie, and perhaps it may be more risky to due to pesticide exposure. It’s already been shown the advantages of urban honey production. Insect husbandry may be a way to reclaim abandoned industrial and urban spaces. Tiny Farms has already designed and offers cricket farming structures you can setup in your own garage–and who knows, eventually in multi-story cricket protein production facilities.563946_orig BONUS: Instead taking all the corn we’re so great at overproducing and putting it into obesity-  and diabetes-inducing high fructose corn syrup, it can be fed to protein-enriching crickets who are efficient corn-processing machines.

So perhaps when you order your McCricket of the future  (or of the now if you’re in NYC), you can avoid the methane plume, walk off with a fraction of the water. Don’t know about the cricket poop. Yet. Grasshopper Slider.jpg