Look Down: Edible Insects Workshop

“Jade, you copy? Nina speaking. The insect girls have arrived. Repeat, the insect girls have arrived. Over” 

On 21st June, Annie, Charlotte and myself arrived at Tandem Festival. Located at Hill End outdoors centre, Oxford, Tandem is a weekend celebrating arts, culture and environment. This year, they themed part of the festival on soil, aligning with the United Nation’s International Year of the Soil. And what better way to celebrate soil than to give a workshop on edible insects..!

Tandem Festival Insect workshop

In a stroke of genius, Charlotte decided our workshop should be called Look Down: Edible Insects. 

Down to the soil. with an Open mind. connect with people Worldwide. and try something New

Our workshop was to take place just before lunch; the perfect time to get your insect protein fix for the day. The location – The Willows building and outside picnic benches, with the former being a space for presentations and debates and the latter a platform for culinary exploration.

At 11am, the room started to be filled with eager (and slightly anticipatory) attendees. The best thing was that around 40% of the group were children under the age of 10. As Annie reflected in her talk on the psychology of eating insects, it is this demographic that are most important; they are curious and they have not yet developed stubborn habits towards particular food groups – particularly ‘risky’ or ‘unknown’ foods.

Initial tastings

Silk worm pupae, grasshoppers and wasp larvae were laid out on black, intricately designed Japanese plates. Next to them were test tubes filled with grubs from Zimbabwe, silk worm cocoons and wasp nests. This panoply of insect cuisine and specimens was approached with caution by most; some even ran away after poking a silk worm.They just look so shiny and..plump…” said one spectator.
edible insects grasshopper silk worm wasp
edible insect workshop tandem
People arriving!!
After introducing the session, we handed round the banquet of insects. We then asked people to fill out a questionnaire about their reactions [results coming soon!]
First mistake: we gave silk worm pupae first. For those who have tried silk worms, they are an acquired taste. Domesticated and farmed for their silk production, silk worms feed only on mulberry leaves which have a distinctive, strong taste. Compared to the grasshoppers and wasp larvae, they are also slightly less ‘meaty’ and drier, and are less overpowered by the taste of soy and sugar.
The reactions ranged from absolute disgust and ‘ick factor’ rejections to one little boy even asking for more silk worm. Like Charlotte, he ‘craved that silk worm’.
edible insects workshop grasshopper
girl eating silk worm edible insects
She was not impressed by the silk worms
edible insects workshop tandem festival
Curiouser and curiouser
silk worm edible insect workshop tandem
“Can I have some more silk worm please?”
The adrenaline from eating unknown foods and experiencing new tastes and textures gave rise to great discussions on insect gastronomy, all complemented by Charlotte’s fantastic photos of insect sushi and other delights. Questions were asked both by Charlotte and the audience, with a constant feed of curiosity and particularly insatiable interest in learning about how to feed and kill grasshoppers.
With people suitably hooked, we decided to get properly hands on…with an insect cooking class.

Taste investigation! Cooking with insects

In Japan, Charlotte and I had the pleasure of meeting with Tsukahara, a charismatic man with a large smile and a small dog named Sweetie. Tsukahara owns a family-run speciality foods shop, and is well known for his delicious array of insects. Using an old workhouse nestled in the foothills of rural Japan, Tsukahara uses large aluminium pots to gently cook a range of wild caught insects in soy sauce and mirin, a sweet Japanese wine.
Tsukahara Shinshu Chinmi
Charlotte, Tsukuhara and I
His charisma is matched with generosity and he kindly donated 3kg of silk worms, wasps and grasshoppers for our workshop. The fact we had to take these all the way back to England in our suitcases was just a triviality – I would have pitied the staff member who found my suitcase filled to the brim with insects, hornet liquor and stuffed anime toys.
These insects, plus a tonne of roasted vegetables, cheeses and sourdough bread, provided the basis of our taste investigation workshop. 
Taste investigation is a concept encouraged by Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a campaign towards the preservation and celebration of endangered or traditional foods around the world. With globalisation of Western diets and lifestyles, the diversity of traditional foods and the cultures and environments that underpin them are in jeopardy. As consumers, this undermining risks further detaching us from the enjoyment, tastes, textures, aromas and fascinating stories behind our foods.
We wanted to use taste investigation to explore the world of edible insects. By letting people actually prepare a meal in a social setting, tasting and testing out different flavour and texture combinations, and incorporating insects (something novel and potentially scary) with ‘normal’ foods, we hoped to shift people’s initial disgust or detachment from entomophagy into feelings of enjoyment.
Huddled around three tables filled with insects and vegetables galore, people set to work. Here are some of the lessons learned:
  • Silk worm pupae go particularly well with roquefort cheese
  • Avocado on toast with salsa and crunchy grasshoppers is a treat 
  • Stuffed mushrooms with wasp larvae, avocado and salsa is delicious
  • Basically stuffing every single food item into one tortilla is the best way to go
edible insects workshop tandem
The taste workshop starts…
edible insects workshop tandem
silk worm cheese cooking
Silk worm and smelly cheese?
edible insects workshop tandem
Contemplating their next move…
avocado grasshopper toast
Avocado on toast with grasshopper 
edible insect tortilla
edible insect mushroom tortilla
Wasp larvae, butternut squash, mushroom and tomato tortilla
edible insect tortilla
This is the same girl who hated silk worms! Look at her go!

More food for thought: Psychology and policy

After the taste investigation, everyone piled back into the Willows building to listen to the final presentations.
With over 1900 species of edible insect, and over 30% of the world’s population already eating insects as part of a traditional diet, there is an impetus to really understand the reasons behind entomophagy and what role it could play in the future of our food and agricultural systems.
Consumer preference and cultural barriers are incredibly important when determining whether or not insects will become a ‘mainstream’ food choice in the West. Annie spoke about the psychological barriers to eating insects, primarily disgust and how sensitising yourself to a new food over time is one key way to overcome initial repulsion. 
annie zimmerman edible insects workshop tandem
Go Annie go!
rebecca roberts edible insects workshop tandem
Insects as ‘climate friendly’?
edible insects workshop tandem
Captivated audience!
A great discussion was sparked amongst the audience, including points of:
  • It is the fact you eat the insect whole that makes it ‘icky’: “You wouldn’t shove a pig, trotters and all, into your mouth”
  • The importance of machoism (“I’ll eat that grub ‘cos I’m macho”) when it comes to eating unusual/potentially unsafe foods
  • Farming insects and welfare issues were also important in determining whether or not they would eat them
Moving away from the individual mindset level, I looked at edible insects in the wider policy sphere, especially in relation to their potential in healthy and sustainable diets and shifting away from a land, water and greenhouse gas intensive livestock farming system. 
Linking the culture, the individual, the food and the policy together was a great finishing point: The individual focus and hands-on workshop gave people agency and a voice in the debates and exploration of entomophagy, which can then be grounded in global perspectives and policy change. 
This workshop was truly inspiring. In just an hour and a half, people went from poking at silk worms in disgust to being involved emotionally, gastronomically and intellectually with entomophagy as a concept and practice.

“I literally just came along to look at the bugs…and now I’ve gone away with a tin foil take-away of them to give to my friends in the pub”

We just hope that this provides a platform for more inspiring educational workshops like this, encouraging people to go outside their culinary comfort zones, ask questions and gorge on tortillas stuffed with insect delights.
We shall update you soon on what progress we have made…
i eat bugs badge
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