Love Bug: Taste Education and Edible Insects

 
After five months of us saying we are going to do a pop-up dinner together, Annie and I finally did it. Our first event was a traditional aphrodisiac and edible insect themed event; a sure fast way to rid ourselves of the pent up frustration over when/where/how/what to do a pop-up on.
 
Love Bug edible insect aphrodisiac pop up menu
 
I would like to say that the notion of ‘Love Bug’ came from an intellectually stimulating debate over artisan coffee, but instead it evolved during a filming session where Annie and Charlotte were feeding insects to a poor man named Craig and I was swigging at hornet liquor. 
 
So, the big question: Why did we incorporate ‘eating insects’ and ‘eating n’sex’?
 
Well, there are many reasons. First and foremost, I find the above play on words utterly hilarious. So did my mother when she asked what I got up to in Japan, and I nonchalantly said ‘Well, just a lot of eating insects’. Let’s just say, it got lost in translation.
 

No, in all serious, contrary to popular belief that oysters and champagne are the winning combination, many edible insects are a potent aphrodisiac alongside other foods such as chilli, avocado, wasabi, basil and banana.  

For example, in sexual entomology (yes, that’s a thing), insects are a ‘symbolic charm’ that produces physiological effects (i.e. real or placebo) of sexual and pleasure enhancement. In India, queen termites are a delicacy due to their procreative capacity, and in Mexico, the chapuline or grasshopper has similar effects due to its ability to lay numerous eggs. This aligns with a wider belief that ‘you are what you eat’. Worldwide, bees – and their byproduct, honey – are said to increase genitalia size and help you become more attractive. Perhaps this is where the desire for ‘bee stung’ lips comes from. Alongside symbolism, some insects produce ‘love drugs’; the Spanish fly secretes cantharidin, an aphrodisiac remedy used in the US in the early 1900s.

chilli cocktails taste education oxford
Chilli-infused cocktails to get your heart racing

We wanted to use Love Bug as a platform for ‘taste education’ on edible insects and aphrodisiacs. Taste education is a concept that embraces pleasure, conviviality and appreciation of food and its diversity. As Slow Food states:

“by understanding where our food comes from, how it was produced and by whom, adults and children can learn how to combine pleasure and responsibility in daily choices and appreciate the cultural and social importance of food”.
 
There is a tendency in Western culinary culture to group all insects into one homogenous blob: ‘pest’, ‘disgusting’, ‘primitive’. There are of course exceptions to the rule. In the US, flies and crickets have been farmed but, as it’s mainly for animal and fish feed rather than human food, attention has been limited. In continental Europe, milbenkase (mite cheese) is traditional to Germany and casu marzu is a delicacy in Sardinia. However, with stringent health and safety regulations and a stubborn prioritisation of large domesticates such as cows and pigs over protein-rich grubs, these examples are few and far between.
 
Increasingly, this is changing. As we speak, the notion of edible insects as an alternative protein source is breaking out of its cocoon and morphing into the glorious butterfly that is a ‘global solution to world food, health and climate crises’.
 
If insects do become the next big thing, it is crucially important to understand the diversity underpinning them. This includes taxonomic diversity, biodiversity, knowledge and gastronomic diversity. Without appreciating this and integrating it into our utilisation of edible insects, we risk losing everything that makes them valuable in the first place.

 

bug banquet banner oxford
The amazing banner donated by Bug Banquet!
 
Hosted at the artisan oil and spirits store Demi John, Love Bug encouraged guests to eat and savour new foods, but also actively discuss and engage with the stories behind them. In this sense, we provided a platform for ‘informed eating’, aligning with the quote“Eating is a necessity, eating intelligently is an art”. 

Guests were urged to doodle and scribble their thoughts, tastes and experiences onto the paper tablecloth. The resultant collage or ‘food doodle’ (foodle) not only showed enjoyment and creativity, but also gave valuable information on the perceptions and reactions to edible insects.
 
love bug taste education oxford
food doodle taste education workshop oxford
The final ‘foodle’ collage!

 

When it came to actually choosing the elements of the three course meal, there was a trade off. If we want to incorporate insects into Western food culture, we will have to sensitise people to them and challenge prerequisite values and culinary beliefs. ‘Hiding’ insects in known foods is one way of doing so, either by using insects as a food additive (e.g. cricket flour bars) or or blending them into foods with familiar tastes such as tacos, pasta and chocolate. 
 
This may help to encourage consumer interest and consumption, but what about nutrition and health? By dipping insects into chocolate or using them in meal supplements, are we not simply reinforcing the systemic health and sustainability challenges that insects are meant to be solving in the first place?
 
We tried to find a balance between the two, providing a meal that a) included ‘well known’ foods and b) was healthy and nutritious. We even went a bit further, with some insects being plainly visible in the food and others incorporated in a sauce. 

cucumber avocado grasshopper sushi
Annie hard at work making grasshopper, avocado and cucumber sushi
 

The final meal consisted of: 

  • A chilli-based cocktail
  • Homemade grasshopper, avocado and cucumber sushi with a seaweed salad
  • Fresh pasta with silk-worm, tomato and basil sauce and chilli prawns
  • Vegan banana ice cream with honeycombe and sugar shards, topped with wasp larvae and chocolate-dipped fruits. 


silkworm and tomato pasta oxford taste education
Annie making homemade pasta and silkworm and tomato sauce

We did provide some extra additions too, thanks to the Bug Banquet teams ‘grasshopper and white chocolate petit fours’ (Okay, everyone needs a treat…) and Christine’s generous donation of all-natural, wholefood cricket protein bars from Crobar. 

bug banquet white chocolate grasshopper
Enticing little grasshopper petit fours 

 

Overall, we were able to harness the curiosity surrounding entomophagy and allow people to try insects and traditional foods, but in a way that respected rather than undermined the health, sustainability and diversity foundations. 

rebecca roberts annie zimmerman taste education
Annie and I at the end of the evening

 

We are hoping to continue this quest in the future, not only through a fantastic Bug Banquet event [check out our Kickstarter page!] at Green Man Festival in August 2015, but through more pop-up dining workshops.
 
If you want to know more about these and our availability, or want to suggest a food/agricultural theme for a future event, please get in touch via: becca.jbroberts [at] gmail [dot] com.
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