Entomophagous Outreach

This month has seen two outreach events on consecutive weekends (Richmond Nature Park’s Bugs and More! and Spiders Unraveled at Iona Beach in Richmond) where I’ve been lucky enough to be able to introduce families to the fun of Entomophagy!

These two girls had the BEST jokes.

Iona Beach is a beautiful setting to talk about (and eat) insects and arachnids! Photo by Mike Boers.

At the first event, Bugs and More!, Grant Olson and I presented attendees with a number of tasty options. We weren’t sure what flavours to expect from the cricket flour, mealworm flour, roasted crickets, and other snacks we ordered from Next Millennium Farms. Erring on the side of caution, we decided to go with recipes that had been pre-approved “delicious” by the company/their collaborators rather than trying something new. We chose the cricket flour blueberry muffins (a mini-cupcake sized version), caramel roasted cricket popcorn, mealworm flour smoothies, and their pre-made cricket and mealworm snacks.

Fearless parents and fearless kids.

Caramel and Cricket Popcorn!

We wanted there to be a selection of options ranging from ‘daring’ to ‘easy’. ‘Daring’ options would clearly be insects like the pre-made snacks, and ‘easy’ would be the smoothie or muffins; if we didn’t tell you what’s in them, you’d never know. The caramel corn with visible crickets fell in-between because the crickets were obvious, but somewhat hidden by the distracting popcorn.

Lots of people were nervous at first but then came back for more!

Explaining the options. Photo by Sean McCann.

I got a head cold just before the event, so we decided I should keep me well away from the cooking process until I was healthy. I have to put all cooking/baking credit on Grant’s well-deserving shoulders: all the treats we tried that day turned out great. If you decide to make the blueberry muffins, I recommend using sturdier cupcake liners than the paper ones we used though, because the sticky muffins made them difficult to remove.

Our initial concern about how the flour might flavour the muffins and smoothies were unfounded. The muffins didn’t have any unexpected flavours to make them obviously different from any other muffin. The smoothies were delicious, though they did have a whole-wheat sort of flavour and texture about them. If you’re used to adding protein powder to smoothies, then the texture won’t phase you at all. I think the texture was so noticeable in these smoothies because the recipe was much more juice-like than others. I tested this theory for my next entomophagy outreach event.

That's a LOT of protein.

Grant finished the last of the smoothies.

The following weekend was Spider’s Unraveled at Iona Beach in Richmond. My collaborators from Iona Beach provided mealworm snax from HotLix and I brought some more caramel popcorn that I had frozen in a tupperware container to keep it fresh. Freezing worked really well! They were delicious.

This was a spider-themed outreach event, so the idea was to “eat like a spider” at my table. Spiders, of course, eat insects. I think most people knew that before coming to talk to me. What a lot of people don’t realize is that they don’t eat like other carnivores. They inject their prey with venom to paralyze them, then use digestive enzymes (like in our saliva) to make their prey into a nutritious goop to slurp up (read more!).

2 tablespoons is 10g of cricket flour. 6g/10g is protein.

Pouring Cricket and Fruit Smoothies. Photo by Mike Boers.

To work with this theme, the main event of my table was smoothies! At Bugs and More! we made the pre-approved smoothie recipe, but this time I wanted to be able to have more variation with less effort and lower access to regular kitchen infrastructure. I bought bags of frozen fruit (blueberries, blueberries+strawberries, strawberries, mango+peaches, blueberry+blackberry+strawberry+raspberry), several bunches of bananas, plain yogurt, apple juice, and orange juice. The recipe is roughly 1 banana with an approximately equal mass of frozen fruit (any kind), 1 large tablespoon scoop of yogurt, and enough juice (or milk) to cover about half the fruit in the blender. Get a keen kid to scoop two tablespoons of cricket flour in (properly measured – the only ingredient I was precise about), and blend blend blend. This strategy made it easy to make many different flavours by swapping out different frozen fruits without needing to completely wash out the blender (a difficult task without a kitchen).

No venom was used in the making of this metaphor.

I started getting keen attendees to help bend up our nutritious slurry. Photo by Sean McCann.

The results were much thicker than the mealworm flour smoothies from the previous week, with much stronger fruit flavours. Whatever flavours and textures the flour might have added were not noticeable at all. Presenting the smoothies to the many cyclists who happened by as a health drink with a kick of adventure and environmental sustainability was a huge hit.

To round both these events out, we made up “Entomophagy Achievement Awards” to give to the daring kids who were willing to give it a try. They turned out to be immensely motivating! We also had a colouring activity with either a cricket or mealworm line drawing to colour in and a fill-in activity that read: “I thought the mealworm/cricket would taste like _______________ but it actually tasted like _______________! Sometimes hesitant children would want to colour and do the written activity, then decide to try some treats so they could complete the activity. Completed sheets were then displayed for everyone to see. For adults, we also made up a 1/2 page information sheet including comparisons of protein content and sustainability of entomophagy vs chicken, beef, etc..

Rainbow bugs are popular.

A lot of kids thought the insects would taste “crunchy”. See if you can guess who tasted which treats by their description of what it actually tasted like!

If I do another entomophagy-themed outreach event, I’m going to add a comparison activity; can you tell the difference between this baked good with and without the added cricket/mealworm flour?!

Big thanks to Catherine Scott and Sean McCann for inviting me to participate in Spiders Unraveled!