Care for a moth larvae taco? How about a nice big scoop of toffee mealworm ice cream? San Francisco — legendary birthplace of the Popsicle, storied source of world-famous sourdough — may be on the leading edge of a new food trend: insect-based cuisine.
Don Bugito, a food truck devoted to serving what chef and owner Monica Martinez calls “pre-Hispanic” cuisine, dished up its first bug-based bites in August at the annual San Francisco Street Food Festival. If you think only the most adventurous of San Francisco’s foodies would be willing to taste moth larvae wrapped in a corn tortilla, you’d be wrong: by the end of the festival, Martinez’s creepy crawly concoctions had sold out.
In the wake of Don Bugito’s successful August debut, Martinez was invited to host an October dinner at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Titled “Edible Insects and Other Rare Delicacies: An Insect and Mezcal Pairing Dinner,” the menu for the evening featured lake fly egg tortitas and oven toasted American cricket with fresh jicama. (A menu note assures locavores that the crickets were cultivated in California.)
Martinez is set to begin full-time operation of the Don Bugito food truck this month.
Martinez isn’t the only chef serving up bugs in the Bay Area. San Francisco is also home to MiniLivestock, an entomophagy promotion project founded by Rosanna Yau, a Bay-Area designer. And Daniella Martin, entomophagy blogger and host of the GirlMeetsBug YouTube channel, also hails from the region.
Why the sudden spike in American interest in insect-based cuisine? From an anthropological perspective, it might make more sense to ask why Americans don’t traditionally eat bugs. Fried crickets are a common snack in Cambodia. Roasted ants are eaten in Columbia. The indigenous people of Australia consider wood moth larvae — locally called ‘”witchetty grubs” — a staple food.
In fact, worldwide, insects are a fairly common food source; it is mainly in Europe, Canada and the United States — places that maintain a strong cultural taboo against eating bugs — that people react to the idea of munching on mealworms with total disgust.
But it may be in the planet’s best interest for wealthy westerners to get over centuries of cultural conditioning and give entomophagy a try. Promoters of entomophagy claim that insects, packed with protein and minerals, are an eco-friendly alternative to meat, and evidence from a study conducted in January by researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands lends credence to that claim. According to study scientists, edible insects like crickets and locusts produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than traditional livestock like cattle or pigs — up to 100 times less!
As the world population surpasses seven billion, and a growing global middle class demands more protein on their plates, entomophagy might turn out to be much more than just a foodie trend — it could be a vital step toward a more sustainable food future.
(That doesn’t mean this American food writer will be rushing out to taste crickets, though. Hey, I’m a vegetarian.)
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Photo of mealworms by Peter Halasz, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.