Crickets prepared with spices like galangal, lime leaves, lemon grass and Thai basil by chef Cookie Martinez. (Photo Courtesy- Han Zhang, Han-Studio)
There’s the old joke about a diner at a restaurant complaining to the waiter about a fly in his soup. Those who are in Montreal to partake of the multi-course meal served at a Future Food Salon later this month should expect to find a variety of insects in their dishes.
That Salon, after all, will be the culmination of the first North American multi-disciplinary conference on edible insects, which aptly enough is being held at the Montreal Insectarium, beginning on August 26.
The conference, Eating Innovation: the art, culture, science and business of entomophagy, is the brainchild of Toronto-based Indo-Canadian Aruna Antonella Handa, who believes that insects provide a viable solution for future food requirements as the planet’s population explodes.
Handa, who heads the company Alimentary Initiatives, explained, “They really do make a lot of sense from the point of view of a protein that is affordable but also ecologically affordable and sustainable. The amount of land, water required to raise insects is a very small fraction of that for the regular livestock that we use. They produce very few emissions, yet their nutritional profile is very good.”
But even as an evangelist for entomophagy, or eating insects, Handa understands there are entry barriers to the practice, foremost being the yuck factor.
Therefore, she said, “Before we see bags of crickets in the frozen section of grocery stores, what we’re more likely to see are items fortified with insect protein, like cricket bars, breads and chips.”
With derivative products, people won’t be “confronted by the look” of what’s on the table.
Her own interest in edible insects was piqued when she encountered women at a market in Mexico in the early 1990s: Their baskets were laden with grasshoppers, fried and spiced; local street food. As Handa pointed out, “Insects are an ancient food. Edible insects are part of the revolution going back.”
Still, it will be an uphill task gaining widespread acceptance for cuisine based on insects. “The first bite is the hardest, usually after that people realise it’s not as challenging as they thought,” Handa said.
As she offered a bowl of crickets garnished with garam masala and Korean paprika to this writer, she did prove her point.