Insects: They're What's for Lunch on Earth Day

April 22, 2019 — Crickets in your chocolate chip cookies? Sprinkled on your salad and pizza? Or straight from hand to mouth, like popcorn?

Yes, bugs were on the menu in Alumni Hall during lunch on Earth Day, April 22. In a quest to promote a variety of “environmentally positive” food, NMH nutritionist Carrie Quimby set out bowls of tiny roasted crickets and mealworms, as well as chocolate chip cookies made with “cricket flour” — dried bugs ground into a powder. “Most of the world eats insects,” Quimby pointed out. “They have lots of protein and can be raised in a very sustainable way.”

And yet. “It’s a mental thing,” said Shameek Hargrave ’20, who tried a cricket but stopped short of a full endorsement. 

“They do look a little weird, especially the mealworms,” added Simon Lim ’22. “But they feel like chips. I think they actually taste better than chips.”

Marleyna George ’19 crunched on a small handful of buffalo-wing flavored crickets and then scattered more across her slice of tomato basil pizza. “When it comes to food, I’m a believer in always trying anything once,” she said. 

Although entomophagy (humans consuming insects) has existed for centuries around the world, countries in North America and Europe have tended to shun the practice — until recently. According to The New York Times and the research firm Global Market Insights, the American market for insect-based foods was more than $55 million in 2017 and is expected to reach almost $80 million by 2024. Raising insects also costs less and creates less strain on land and water resources than other kinds of livestock.

At NMH, reactions to the crickets and mealworms focused on taste and texture rather than any underlying nutritional and environmental benefits. “Airy.” “Dry.” “Like a hot dog rolled in dirt.” “Way better than I expected.” “My mantra is, ‘Just try it,’” Quimby said. She herself first ventured into insect-eating a decade ago, when she downed a tarantula during an NMH-sponsored trip to Cambodia. “I had to psyche myself up,” she admitted. 

There was nothing as palate-challenging as a tarantula on NMH’s Earth Day celebration menu this spring. The crickets and mealworms came in user-friendly flavors — cheesy ranch, hickory smoked bacon, among others — and the cookies tasted like … cookies. There were other “environmentally positive” options, too, including NMH farm-raised pork chops, radishes, and salad greens; and beef and grains from local farms. 

As students headed for the pork chops and burgers, Director of Dining Services Rich Messer corralled them and made a pitch for the crickets and mealworms. “Come on, be brave,” he urged. Looking on, Quimby called the experiment a win. “We’ve got a young crowd here, and I suspect a lot of them are adventurous and interested in trying something new.”