Recently, I had the privilege of making a trip out to one of the coolest conferences I’ve ever attended, Eating Insects: Exploring the culture of insects as food and feed. Entomophagy, the technical term for eating insects, is an emerging industry in the United States. Even in a wealthy country like the US, hunger is still a huge problem. Economical and environmentally friendly alternative proteins are being looked at with great hope. To meet the needs of an expanding population, we need to consider all of the protein options we have available. This includes eating insects.
Before you squirm in your seat, eating insects has been around for a very long time in other cultures. And while it may not be for everyone, insect protein can be a viable option for feeding fish, poultry, and other omnivorous livestock with a much lower carbon footprint than traditional proteins like soy and fishmeal.
What set this conference apart from others was the overwhelming sense of self awareness this burgeoning industry has. It was very clear to me by lunch time on the first day that everyone in the room, while entomophagy enthusiasts, understood that we are not going to convince everyone we know to try, and dare I say, enjoy, insects as food. Heck, even I was a little concerned about the idea and I flew 2000 miles to be there! My trepidation was alleviated in short work when I attended the dinner hosted by Detroit Ento later in the evening as detailed in another blog post.
One non profit organization called Little Herds was there to present some of the incredible edible insect work they’ve been doing with kids. I like their educational model. You may not be able to convince adults to eat insects, but kids love them. And kids who eat insects will be adults who eat insects!
The conference was well attended, I’m guessing 300 people or so. That’s quite a few folks for a bug eating meeting. The presentations included topics like the perceptions of edible insects, the environmentally friendly benefits of raising insects as compared to other proteins, edible insects in other countries, and successes and failures of raising insects. Each of the three days was filled with intriguing presentations with a fancy dinner Thursday night and a vendor expo on Friday night. The vendor expo was a thrill because we got to try just about every insect product on the market, it seemed.
I happened to miss my shuttle to the expo and the guys from Entomo Farms were kind enough to give me a ride there. Great guys and amazing insect farmers. The pictures they shared from the Entomo Farms facility and their tasty products were top notch. And I’m not saying that because of the free ride! They are the real deal when it comes to large scale insect farming and were very open and informed. I enjoyed our conversations about production and I even got to share some of the work we are doing at TomKat Ranch growing soil with grass fed/ grass finished cattle. It’s something I spoke to a lot of people at the conference about because insect farmers often times compare inefficient conventional beef production to the amazing efficiencies of insect farming. My point is that, yes, insect farming is probably always going to be more efficient from an input perspective, but the benefits of soil restoration, carbon sequestration, and increased soil water holding capacity gained from grassfed/grass finished production should also be considered in the full life cycle analysis when breaking things out.
Amongst the vendors was a very special man from Missouri named Paul Landkamer sharing his favorite bugs on a platter (pictured above) and he was there only for the love of entomophagy. Nothing to sell, but enthusiasm, and it was highly contagious. As he described his entomological offerings, he mentioned his entomophagy club back home. Figuring it probably consisted of just Paul, I asked how many in the show-me-state were in his club? He answered 30 people! Well, after trying the different insects he had to offer, I can definitely understand why he has so many members. Paul had a platter of differently prepared insects that were roasted or sweet pickled. The roasted ones were decent, but the sweet pickled bugs will knock your socks off they are so delightful. He was a real highlight of the trip.
Eating Insects was hosted by Wayne State University and organized by anthropologist Julie Lesnik. This inaugural conference was an immediate success. I look forward to where we go from here and can’t wait until next year!
Here’s some more photos: