Every year for over a century, The Explorers Club hosts an awards dinner to honor the foremost explorers of our time. Last year, Elon Musk was among the honorees, this year, Neil deGrasse Tyson will win the top honor.
This year, the menu at the awards dinner will also require some adventurousness. The club tapped “Bug Chef” David George Gordon to create a menu that will not only be unusual, but also highlight the sustainable and traditional aspects of eating insects. Insects have been widely discussed as a more efficient form of protein, and have been offered as a solution to food security in a world with a growing population.
A preview tasting was held last night, giving myself and other members of the press time to speak with Gordon and eat some insects. I’ve tried cookies and protein bars made with cricket flour, but Gordon’s dishes deliberately don’t disguise the bug.
“My ethics for preparing them is that I want everything to be visually apparent, not just grasshopper gumbo,” said Gordon. “I wanted to see it, and not bury it in ketchup and sauces. I want you to taste the bug.”
Gordon also works to create dishes that reflect traditional use. Bugs have been eaten for thousands of years all around the world; in some ways Western cultures are the anomaly for being grossed out by eating insects. For example, chapulines are grasshoppers that are wild harvested and eaten in Oaxaca, Mexico. Gordon served them as part of a chocolate fondue, which makes them pretty hard to pass up.
Some of the other bugs were a bit harder to bite into—mentally. I was pretty psyched to try the offerings, but found that once I actually had cockroach canapés and grasshopper kabobs on my plate overcoming the preconceived idea that bugs aren't food was something of a challenge. But Gordon knows what he’s doing, and all of the dishes were in fact tasty. All of the deep-fried tarantulas were snapped up before I had the chance to try one. And for good reason, these delicacies sell for about $15.00 a piece and other guests likened the taste to soft shell crab.
The Bug Chef generally prefers farmed bugs to wild harvested ones because they don't interfere with an existing ecosystem, and the menu even includes organically raised cricket nymphs. Bug farms are quite common in China and Thailand, and are beginning to gain some ground in the U.S. Because insect farms don’t require a lot of space, they also have potential for urban farming. “You could actually have a cricket farm down the block,” said Gordon. “And you could go and get your crickets from the neighborhood cricket farm. It’s not like it has to have range land.” There are even counter-top farms for growing edible bugs at home—another way edible bugs could have a smaller carbon footprint than other animal products.
“We’re going to have 9 billion people in another 20 years, and we’re going to have to double the supply of food,” said Alan Nichols, President of The Explorers Club. “Cows and pigs, where we get our protein now, are a disaster. It’s a pollution disaster, and it’s going to be an expense disaster.”
Nichols said the club wants to communicate that eating insects is a solution to these problems. There are 1,900 species of insects that people are already eating all over the world. “Our Western attitude is that it’s kind of fun maybe to get your picture taken doing it, but we don’t really believe in it.”
There’s been a lot of effort to make eating bugs more palatable to Western eating, and I can’t say if wrapping grasshoppers in bacon or turning them into protein powder will be the preferred approach. But there is certainly a lot of creativity going into the work.
Readers interested in making their own insect meals can find recipes in Gordon’s “The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook.” He doesn't recommended eating bugs that haven't been cooked.