Bug Appétit!

Did you know that insects form part of the traditional diet of an estimated 2 billion people on the planet? And that even those of us who actively avoid all contact with bugs can’t avoid ingesting a pound or two of flies, maggots, and other bugs without knowing it every year? Insects aren’t the future of food–they’re very much part of our present reality!

The National Geographic and New York Times ran recent features exploring the role entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) might play in moving the United States toward a more efficient, less toxic food system. Edible insect startups are taking off in the United States, Canada, and Europe–notorious “anti-ento” markets–in 2014, Exo, the maker of cricket-based proteins, closed a $1.2 million seed round.

Through generous funding from the Erb Institute’s Cool Project Fund, Juan Pablo Garcia, Andrea Kraus, Julio Villasenor, and Monica Wyant, four dual degree students at the School of Natural Resources & Environment and the Ross School of Business, spent several months researching the current edible insect landscape in the United States and talking to entrepreneurs involved in the space. During this one hour special, they walk listeners through their findings by running through the full “insect farm to cricket taco” value chain.

At the start of the hour, Kevin Bachhuber from Big Cricket Farms describes the joys and challenges of raising millions of crickets for human consumption on his farm in Ohio each year. Kevin’s efforts have been highlighted by TedxThe New Yorkerand Vice.

Next up, we travel down to Austin, Texas and talk to Josh Blaine, store manager of in.gredients, a community grocery store that sells several delicious products containing insects. Josh explains from a retailer’s perspective, why selling edible insects makes sense and what customers’ reactions are.

Lauren Allen, a native Austin cook who has experimented extensively with edible insects, shares some of her favorite recipes and some tips on getting over the “ick factor”.

Robert Nathan Allan, founder of Little Herds, a non-profit educating and empowering communities to support and promote the use of insects for food, wraps things up in Austin by outlining which barriers the industry must break down in order to reach scale.

Thoroughly inspired by all of the entrepreneurial entomophagy activity in Austin, the Erb team decided to host its own homegrown bug banquet back in Ann Arbor. Chef Nathan Brand whipped up a glorious menu for over a dozen first-time bug eaters that gathered to eat, talk, and celebrate entomophagy. We close the hour with Nathan’s description of what it’s like to cook with insects for the first time, as well as the reactions of our guests.

Happy listening!

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