Our future Thanksgivings may include mealworm pie, cockroach relish, and roasted grasshoppers with green beans, as climate change and a swelling population makes meat more expensive and environmentally unsustainable.
Bugs are high in protein, with some species up 70% protein by weight. A 2013 report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization argues that corporations and governments will need to start farming insects to meet the food needs of the planet’s more than 9 billion people by 2050. The authors, food researchers at Wageningen University and Research in The Netherlands, argued that insect-rearing would require less land, and less feedstock, than meat.
“Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish,” they wrote.
Nearly 2,000 species of insects are edible, with beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, and ants the most popular world-over.
“Insects are high in calcium, protein, numerous vitamins, and amino acids,” Ginny Mitchell, program coordinator at the Insect Zoo at Iowa State University, told BuzzFeed News.
In talks around the midwest, Mitchell often mentions the health benefits of eating bugs. Recently, she said, she’s noticed more people come up to her afterwards to share that they’ve tried cricket flour or that they’ve seen bug-based protein bars at the store.
Last year, for the first time since he wrote the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook in 1998, David George Gordon found himself at a meeting of more than 100 people who were keen on entomophagy as an industry. “The business aspect of bug-eating has grown considerably,” Gordon told BuzzFeed News.
A hive of startups have launched around this idea: Bitty Foods from San Francisco makes cricket flour that can augment or replace grain flour in recipes; Tiny Farms, an Oakland startup, is building tools and systems that insect farmers can use to better grow bugs; and Exo in Brooklyn makes energy bars featuring cricket flour as the central protein.
This slow embrace of entomophagy is not without hiccups. For example, researchers are still looking for ways to cultivate bugs at quantities that can reliably feed many millions of people. Some are realizing that bugs that are grown easily are not always those that people want to eat.
More chefs are continuing to support this shift. A Brooklyn food festival over Labor Day was dedicated to high-end displays of insect protein. About a year ago, a trio from the Nordic Food Lab, a co-founded by famed chef René Redzepi, showcased traditional insect-based recipes from Kenya to Norway in a documentary titled “BUGS.”
“They’re basically developing a cuisine. That was what was missing before,” said Gordon, who also goes by “Bug Chef.”
As far as Thanksgiving goes, Gordon says that edible insects will best find a place at the table among the sides. “As far as replacing the big bird, that’s 20 pounds of protein. That’s a lot of bug.”
Green Beans And Grasshoppers
At #41 in Julie Hatfield’s book Top 50 Most Delicious Insect Recipes is “Green Beans and Grasshoppers.”
“Worcestershire sauce and Monterey cheese add a depth of flavor add a depth of flavor to a classic Thanksgiving or Sunday supper side-dish,” the author writes.
16 oz. green beans
¼ cup diced yellow onions
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 can cream of mushroom soup,
1 ¼ cup grated Monterey cheese
1 cup of dry-roasted grasshoppers
1. In a bowl, mix all ingredients except the grasshoppers and a quarter cup of cheese, then add to a casserole dish.
2. Top off the dish with the remaining cheese and roasted grasshoppers.
3. The author recommends baking at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Aunt Bertha’s Cranberry-Cockroach Relish
“Bug Chef” Gordon prepared this recipe for a crowd at an event in Times Square in 2012. What do the cockroaches add? “Shock value, mostly,” he said. He recommends purchasing “lab reared” cockroaches over hunting them solo. “That way, you’ll know where they’ve been, prior to cooking,” he said.
2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
12 - 16 freshly baked American cockroaches
1. Using a food processor, coarsely grind cranberries and onion together.
2. Add horseradish, sour cream, and sugar in a medium-sized bowl, mixing until uniform.
3. Combine with baked cockroaches.
4. Put in a plastic container and freeze.
5. On Thanksgiving morning, transfer mixture from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. Serve after six hours.
Monica Martinez, founder of the “Don Bugito” company in San Francisco that draws from indigenous recipes to create insect protein snacks, told Time.com that mealworms have a “very nutty flavor” and toasted in an oven, make a good replacement for pecans.
Martinez told BuzzFeed News that she hasn’t made the dish herself, but it is on her to-do list. She recommends that people use their regular recipe for pecan pie, simply replacing half or all of the nuts with roasted bugs. “I myself would use mealworms the whole way.”