Buggin’ Out: The buzz on eating insects

The moth larvee dish prompted varied reactions. Photo by Juan Martos Diaz.
The moth larvae dish prompted varied reactions. Photo by Juan Martos Diaz.g

Moth larvae in cocktail sauce and cricket stir-fry were two of the many delicacies on the menu of the MSU Bug Buffet last Friday, Feb. 22. For 25 years, MSU has hosted the event to spotlight eating bugs as a way to build a sustainable food culture.

Entering the mezzanine in the Plant Growth Center, the smell of spicy sauces and sweet brownies filled the air. In a frying pan, MSU Catering staff were cooking up crickets in soy sauce and presenting small trays containing spoons of cocktail sauce and moth larvae.

Entomophagy — the act of eating insects as food — was the focus of the day. While eating crunchy crickets and dried, ground worms may seem unconventional to most Americans, many attendees agreed that the bugs were quite tasty.

Sophomore engineering student Brad Chritton said his favorite bug dish was the mealworm quesadilla. “You barely realized the grub was there,” Chritton remarked. “They didn’t taste bad; they were just creepy.”

Anthropology major Jonah Barta discussed the “nutritional value of insects in comparison to other meat sources,” and sees the Bug Buffet as a way to “break people out of their shells.”

“An open mind,” he continued, “not only allows us to learn about other food habits, but it can also allow us to borrow ideas and enhance our own diets with these nutrient-rich insects.”

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Moth larvae in cocktail sauce ready to be sampled at the 25th annual Bug Buffet.

Florence Dunkel, MSU entomologist and event organizer, is no rookie when it comes to eating bugs. She has spent years researching insects — including through projects investigating the effects of insects on Montana wheat harvests and malaria in West African villages — and is a strong advocate for insects as food. As a leader in teaching the value and sustainability of insects as a viable source of nutrition, she has organized the Bug Buffet for 25 years to promote this idea not only in the Gallatin Valley, but also across the world.

Dunkel, who won the 2012 Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching from the Entomological Society of America, believes consumption of insects is the key to solving world starvation, though Euro-Americans have not caught on to the bug hype just yet. However, according to Dunkel, 80 percent of the world’s population still eat insects as a main staple of nutrition, including people across Asia, Africa, South America and Mexico. Grasshoppers and cicadas are the most widely consumed.

Overharvested oceans and concerns over natural resources contribute to the sustainable nature of insect consumption. In regards to nutrition, Dunkel’s students explained that, gram for gram, insects are a better source of minerals and protein than beef.

As a free event open to the public, the Bug Buffet involved many of Dunkel’s students as spectators and teachers. They assisted in the explanation of what exactly the adventurous bug-eaters were tasting.

“It is always good to try new things,” Barta said, “and to challenge people’s conception of things that are socially constructed ideals. The Bug Buffet serves as a way to do this.”