Eating Bugs: San Antonio Botanical Garden to Showcase Insects as Food

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Mealworm frittatas by edible insect focused chef Robert Nathan Allen are ready to be eaten.

Courtesy / Robert Nathan Allen

Mealworm frittatas prepared by Robert Nathan Allen, a chef who focuses on edible insects.

Have a hankering for bee drone larvae? Ever wonder how silkworms taste? Head over to the San Antonio Botanical Garden on Saturday for a bug lunch catered by four chefs working with four different types of insects to create delectable dishes to sample.

Monika Maeckle, founder and organizer of the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival, said she originally included the bug lunch in the festival to “mix it up” and keep from focusing too much on butterflies. Entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects, is slowly making its way to American consciousness, she said.

“There is a movement to encourage people in the U.S. to eat insects,” she said. “We’re one of the few countries that doesn’t do that. We’re so persnickety as human beings that we go, ‘Ew, we can’t eat that.’ But it’s the perfect protein.”

Robert Nathan Allen, founder of Austin educational nonprofit Little Herds and insect-eating aficionado, is bringing his expertise to the festival for a third year. He said the only reason Americans don’t regularly eat bugs is because of a cultural stigma.

“We understand there’s an ick factor there, and we understand education is a big part of it and a generational shift so that kids are more receptive to it,” Allen said. “And we understand that chefs are a big part of that, understanding how insects can be used, how their flavor profiles and textures can accentuate the foods we’re eating.”

Allen said if people can’t bring themselves to eat bugs, he hopes they’ll start thinking about using them as a protein source for animals.

“If you want to eat them, you can, but if that’s too weird – because it’s still really weird for a lot of folks here – we can still use them as feed for our chickens, pigs, or an alternative protein source for cats and dogs,” Allen said. “There are a lot of ways we can utilize them as a natural resource. It’s just getting over that psychological taboo.”

Allen became involved with entomophagy after his mother sent him a video about it. He said he was surprised that no one in Austin was active in the insect-eating scene and started doing research. When he brings samples out to demonstrate bugs as food, kids are most receptive to trying them, Allen said.

“I quickly realized that kids have less of that aversion, especially the little kids who came up and started chowing down on crickets,” he said. “The parents were the ones freaking out.”

Allen’s favorite insect-inclusive recipe is his chocolate chip cookie with cricket powder.

“It comes out with a slightly nuttier flavor,” he said. “It almost tastes like it has peanut butter in it.”

Two sessions of bug lunch will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Tickets cost $25 per adult and $10 per child. Chefs will be cooking with silkworms, bee drone larvae, Oaxacan chapulines (grasshoppers), and crickets. People with shellfish allergies may want to skip eating insects without consulting a doctor first, as insects can cause similar allergic reactions as crustaceans.

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