I consider myself an adventurous eater. In the name of "don't knock it 'til you try it," I've eaten shirako (cod sperm) and ostrich, crickets and snake, fried frogs and plenty of snails. But for the majority of these creepy crawlers, their full self has been disguised in some way: drowning in sauce, baked in chocolate, sectioned off and fried. Which is maybe why bugs—whole, there's-no-mistaking-what-they-are bugs—have never appealed to my adventurous side.
There's a movement that's trying to change that perception, and at a recent bug and wine pairing event held at V Wine Room this past week, I met some of the people behind that movement. Aly Moore is the creator of Bugible.com, and she launched this pairing (dubbed "Scary Delicious") to introduce and encourage entomophagy—the act of eating insects.
"Insects are a viable source of protein for the future," Moore tells us, a group of roughly 10 attendees whose experience with eating bugs ranges from non-existent to cricket-eating pro. "And the sustainability metrics are crazy."
As our first course of bugs—a protein bar and protein powder made with crickets, plus whole roasted crickets—comes to the table, Moore talks about where our little critters are coming from: Coala Valley Farms. The Van Nuys farm is California's only sustainable farm that breeds crickets for human consumption; visitors can take a tour if they're interested in how these insects are raised and cultivated. To pair with our crickets, V Wine Room owner Michael Consbruck explains his wine selection. "I tried to match flavor profiles," he explains. "Crickets are chestnuty, oaky, so I paired it with Baubles from Four Brix Winery." It's a bubbly brut with notes of citrus and pear, and an easy way to wash down our first insects of the meal. The sweet protein bar mostly tastes like a Fig Newton, while the whole dried crickets are like potato chips you might pop into your mouth.
Our second course arrives—grasshoppers and ants paired with a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc—and I notice my table mate scooping up the rest of his crickets with a knife and fork to make room for more bugs. His name is Scott Trimble, and he's one of the founders of the edible insect movement. Trimble started Entomophagy.com, an online catalogue of restaurants that serve insects—around 120 across the country, 30 of which are in L.A. "In just the last four years, I've seen [the movement] grow so much," he says. "This is the future in terms of sustainability. Just think: 30, 40 years ago, sushi was considered scary."
As we continue our pairings, it becomes easier to view these bugs as legitimate snacks and not dishes to fear. Mealworms and honey mustard crickets (so many crickets!) go down like a breeze, as do the earthy silkworm pupae—though the fiery zinfandel that Consbruck pairs with this course helps, too. "As far as we know, bugs are gluten-free," says Moore. "But what if you're a vegan? If you're an ethical vegan, you should be eating insects because the benefits of insects outweigh agricultural issues." Edible insects are killed in a relatively humane fashion, too: they're first put to sleep in the fridge, then finished off in the freezer.
By our sixth course I'm feeling pretty confident, even when Moore says that this will be the most challenging one. But then three June bugs land on my plate, and I can feel myself swallow hard. They're big—one of them over an inch long—and we're just supposed to pop them into our mouths whole. The visual aspect of eating bugs is one of the movement's biggest hurdle in terms of getting people on board, an issue that is being addressed with products like bolognese sauce made with ground up crickets, protein bars with cricket powder and cookies with chopped ants. But these dried June bugs aren't disguised as anything. Their six skinny legs are fully intact, their hard shells have a faint blue glimmer and their beady eyes are dark and shiny. Is it really any different than eating a whole fried fish? Or a fried frog? It shouldn't be, but my brain is still telling me to bail, that there's no way this bug could taste good. I guess there's only one way to find out.
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