A class project to create a new environmental campaign has turned into a University of Toronto student club with an unusual goal: to get people to eat bugs.
Since Daniel Jubas-Malz, a fifth-year psychology student, and four fellow undergrads created Bug Bites last January, they have been serving up free brownies and cookies made with powdered crickets in place of flour. The club’s mission, says Jubas-Malz, is to get students to think of insects as edible. “We’re trying to show that insects can be used in familiar dishes.”
With the global population expected to surge past nine billion by 2050, the West will need to consider alternate food sources, says Jubas-Malz, because traditional livestock such as cows, pigs and chickens consume too many resources. (People already eat insects in many developing countries, such as Mexico, Thailand and Cambodia.) He notes that compared to the more common sources of protein in the Western diet, insects take up less space, reproduce faster and can be given food that otherwise would have ended up as waste. Some, such as crickets and grasshoppers, have a high protein-to-fat ratio and contain important nutrients such as calcium and iron.
In Western countries, there’s a strong aversion to the idea of eating insects (known as entomophagy), and people typically do not prioritize the environment when they choose what to eat, says Jubas-Malz. Some students refuse to even try the club’s cricket-infused baking. “They think it’s disgusting,” he concedes. But he adds that those who do try the brownies and cookies — and many do — are usually surprised that they can’t actually taste the cricket.
Besides using cricket flour, the club has also served whole mealworms (the larval form of the mealworm beetle), which, says Jubas-Malz, were barbecue flavoured and tasted like hickory sticks. The club encourages people to taste the cricket brownies, where the bug is not apparent, before trying an insect in its actual form. People seem to be more receptive when they’re assured they won’t have to pick a tiny leg or wing out of their teeth, says Jubas-Malz. “We found making the insects look less ‘buggy’ is a good way of getting rid of the disgust response.”
Ultimately, the club wants people to think of eating insects not as a feat of daring – like they’re on an episode of Fear Factor – but as a normal, everyday occurrence. “We want to show that insects are just like any other ingredient.”
The founders of Bug Bites will all graduate in 2016, so Jubas-Malz says he is looking for new recruits to peddle those cricket brownies. But before he leaves U of T, he also hopes to get the club’s baking onto a cafeteria menu. “I figure I’ll give them a recipe and some samples.”