Vegans, freegans, locavores and… bug eaters? A local group of foodies pushed the envelope of sustainable eating at a weekend event where they tasted creepy-crawlies in the search for new tastes and earth-friendly protein sources.
Presiding over the event was David Gracer, who calls himself a preacher of entomophogy, or using insects for food. At a cooking demonstration on Saturday, he stood over an electric skillet in a South Philadelphia row house, a bag of frozen crickets in hand. About a dozen people watched.
If he was preaching at that kitchen island, there were skeptics in his congregation.
“Are those crickets?” Owen Brown, a Philadelphia musician, called out.
“These are crickets,” Gracer said. “That’s what we’re here for, sir.”
Gracer is an English teacher from Providence, Rhode Island, but on the weekends he travels to spread the gospel of bug-eating. He, and a small group of aficionados around the country, wants to help people develop a taste for what he sees as an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient alternative to meat.
“When we look at how much fresh water and feed and environmental impacts are involved with producing massive amounts of meat,” Gracer said, “it becomes pretty stark and clear that what we’re doing now is not sustainable.”
The group that invited Gracer to Philadelphia, which calls itself the Wild Foodies, usually concerns itself with foraging for edible weeds around the city. But on Sunday they branched out to bugs. It took the longest to work up the nerve for the first sample, the crickets.
After an extended bought of hysterical laughter, Brown finally talked himself into popping one — legs, wings and all — into his mouth.
“It feels like furry, like something’s reaching out, like little legs that say ‘Don’t eat me,’” Brown said.
“I think it’s delicious,” James Pannacciulli from Pittman, N.J., said. “It kinda reminds me of the burnt part, if you fry an egg, around the edges.”
Also on the menu were brown leaf-cutter ants, with bulbous, squishy abdomens, and cicadas, which were likened to eating an entire peanut shell. Oily, salty katydids, with their wings considerately removed, were the clear favorite.
“They’re amazing,” said David Snyder. “(Like) popcorn. Pair that with a California chardonnay.”
The finale was water bugs from Thailand, over 2 inches long and mean-looking. Gracer had to butcher those like lobster, and gave the head as a trophy. The morsels of meat inside the crunchy exoskeleton was said to taste like a baked pear covered in salt.
General consensus among the diners was that the insects were not bad. But they are surprisingly expensive, a whopping $90 per pound for those popcornlike katydids, less for the other bugs. And Gracer got them all from outside the United States, because there is not much of a market here. While many of the diners said they were glad to know they could eat the bugs if they had to some day, few said insects would become a regular part of their diet.
“I always think about what would happen if all of our food supply was to get hit,” said Brown. “What would I do? And I think this is something that’s an option.”
Brown said he won’t be giving up his occasional steak or chicken any time soon, but a pile of katydids, served up on the side with avocado? That he could go for.