BUGSgiving: Meet the woman working to change SoCal’s taste for insects as food

“Black ants are so cool and I am obsessed with them—without even seasoning them, they have a lemon-pepper caviar flavor to them.”

These are the words of Aly Moore, blogger-turned-events-coordinator-turned-bug-advocate—and she is trying to not only shift the conversations about insect and arachnid consumption on a legislative and industry level but trying to convert the common SoCal resident into a full-on supporter of edible bugs.

One step toward this is her Bugsgiving event which assigns Long Beach chefs a bug or two with the task of using them to recreate Thanksgiving favorites for mystified guests—and we will get to that later. But first, education.

“I’m not naïve—there’s a marketing challenge here like no other,” Moore said. “I’ve had to do many deep dives into the emotional, cerebral side of food. That includes examining how, despite all logic pointing toward the opposite, people arrive at an illogical equation when it comes to eating bugs.”

Aly Moore [center] serves Bill Nye the Science Guy some bugs. Courtesy of Aly Moore.

The use of insects from a culinary perspective, especially for contemporary chefs, is a relatively new one. Moore noted that what you feed a cricket is what it will taste like: feed it mint and it will be minty, feed it banana and it will be, banana-y. She’s even created a database of what people have tasted when consuming bugs at her events, permitting chefs and the curious alike to explore bugs based on their flavor profiles.

From a chef perspective, this means limitless possibilities for their patrons. And it is under this spirit with which BUGSgiving gives Moore hope that more people will be into the art of eating bugs.

“This has by far been our most requested event,” Moore said. “And that makes it all the more intimidating for me because Thanksgiving, culturally speaking, is sacred in terms of food. So we needed people who were really dedicated in order to take on Thanksgiving classics.”

A handful of Long Beach chefs, including well-known folks like Chef Paul Buchanan of Primal Alchemy and Chef Melissa Ortiz, will take their spin on bugs and tie into the culinary history of Thanksgiving.

Insects are one of the most viable, sustainable sources of food. Crickets and mealworms, for example, are densely nutritious: 80% of their bodies are complete protein, meaning they provide omega 3 and 6 fatty aides, vitamin B12 as well as high amounts of calcium and iron.

And when it comes to farming crickets and mealworms, they are far more environmentally friendly: While a cow needs some 120 liters of water to produce a gram of beef, crickets need only two liters for a gram of protein. Cows in term of land use? Some 254-square-meters per kilogram of edible protein. Mealworms? 18-square-meters.

But when it comes to consumption, meat still rules the day. A discomfort with bugs inhibits much of the industrialized world from stepping too far into the bug-eating sphere, and the reasons behind that are as complex as it is cultural and class-based. According to Moore, Europeans ditched bugs as a source of sustenance because the weather altered accessibility. Add onto this the agricultural revolution, where bugs were perceived as pests, paired with the imperialism of indigenous cultures by Europeans, and you’ve set yourself up for an anti-bug society.

This Western-centric perception of bug-eating as lowly has even transferred to the most bug-friendly consumers of the world: Moore noted that in Africa and Asia, more and more families that are able to step out of poverty and into the world of meat eating, skip bugs altogether as a social statement about the ladder they’ve climbed.

Mealworm chocolate, served at one of Aly’s events. Courtesy of Aly Moore.

Even with weight of history pulling it down, one would think that the environmental and health benefits alone would swing liberal-spirited eaters.

No.

“People say they care about sustainability but where we put our money says entirely otherwise,” Moore said, echoing the growing sentiment that liberals have many blind-spots when it comes to climate change and sustainability. “And listen: we’re all off our rockers in one way or another—including me. I am not here to say, ‘All Americans have to switch to eating bugs!’ And I am not saying they’re the only way to help out the planet but they are the most provocative… And from that angle, it’s cool to see how this industry is moving forward. I get to watch the bourgeoning of an entire industry.”

That bourgeoning has been a fascinating one, for example, following the Mad Cow Disease debacle of the 1990s, the U.S. banned the feeding of any animal to another animal for farming purposes, and that included crickets, one of the most viable forms of feed for everything from cattle to chickens. Moore witnessed the lifting of that ban in February of this year, creating a seismic shift for the insect farming industry.

“Crickets as feed is where our industry has found its stride,” Moore said. “Feed has become a sector in and of itself. But I really want to shift the conversation further and that means pointing it toward cuisine.”

BUGSgiving will take place on Sunday, Nov. 17. Tickets are available here.

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