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CSU researchers, Entomology Club explore entomophagy — eating bugs

Cornfield+grasshopper+%28Sphenarium+purpurascens%29+product.
Collegian | Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw
Cornfield grasshopper (Sphenarium purpurascens) product.

Eating insects is more commonly associated with schoolyard dares than fine cuisine. Despite the squeamishness concerning insects in the U.S., they are a popular source of nutrients globally. 

In an effort to destigmatize entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, the Colorado State University Entomology Club hosts an Entomophagy Taco Night annually. From 5:30-6:30 p.m. April 18, any student will be able to eat tacos made from insects in the Warner College of Natural Resources building — as long as they don’t have a shellfish allergy. 

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“I want as many people to know about this as possible,” Entomology Club President Claire Walther said. “It’s just such a cool trend in consumption and eating habits and something that we don’t practice in the West.”

Insect consumption has notable environmental benefits and, in some cases, has been shown to have health benefits. 

Tiffany Weir, an associate professor in CSU’s department of food science and human nutrition, studies the consumption of crickets and the potential benefits of the fiber chitin’s influence on healthy gut microbiota.

Growing up with a self-proclaimed limited palette, Weir first tried bugs through her research with co-researcher Valerie Stull from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The pair pioneered human research on cricket consumption’s effect on gut microbiota and co-authored a paper on the subject, published in “Nature Food.”

“Valerie came to my house and made cricket cookies for my kids,” Weir said. “That was great. As long as I couldn’t see it, it was fine.” 

Traveling abroad, Weir did encounter an insect-based food that maintained the look of an insect. Though she wanted to try it, she couldn’t bring herself to at the time, which she regretted, Weir said. Later, a grad student made a mealworm-based tempeh, which Weir was able to try with her eyes closed. 

“Close your eyes and give it a try before you judge,” Weir said. 

Though the implications of this research may have many benefits for a large number of people, convincing students to consume crickets for science is not without its challenges, even in convenient muffin form, Weir joked. 

“We would walk around with these trays of muffins and have people taste them,” Weir said. “We told them what we were doing, and then we would approach (students) in the hall, and they turn around and walk the other way. … There’s also a lot of really open people that were willing to try it.” 

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The consumption of insects, specifically arthropods, is relatively stigmatized in the U.S., with extensive efforts made within the agricultural industry to prevent Americans from ever finding bugs in their food.

Professor of entomology Whitney Cranshaw first tried insects in the ’80s. He ate local species of crickets and compared their tastes with peers, later eating local cuisine involving crickets and agave worms in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Cranshaw’s research has largely focused on insects damaging fruits and vegetables. A large majority of insecticides are sprayed for the sole purpose of preventing insect damage, Cranshaw said.

“Many of those insects you might find in an apple or an ear tip of sweet corn — they’re delicious,” Cranshaw said. “Some of the insects we do come across in fruits and vegetables are actually really pretty tasty. But people don’t consider them that way. They consider them as something that’s evidence of poor sanitation.”

The purpose of the Entomology Club’s Entomophagy Taco Night is to destigmatize insect consumption in the U.S. These critters are high in iron and protein, require less resources to grow and, in the case of crickets, are the only protein source people can also get fiber from.

“A lot of times, it’s easy to become disenfranchised as a consumer when the products you want aren’t available,” Walther said. “Like in a grocery store, if I’m the only one buying this, am I making an impact on consumer trends? And I think the reality is when you have a strong community that becomes more informed on these issues and is really pushing and advocating for these things, we’re seeing this as a trend changing in the West — as far as our consumption or on insects go.”

Cranshaw will be providing different species of crickets, ants and worms to be used at the Entomophagy Taco Night. Those who attend will have a chance to not only eat the insects but learn about the practice of eating bugs.

Social perception and geographic influence play a large role in why people don’t commonly eat bugs in the U.S. However, as climate change and food availability persist as key issues, that may have to change.

Some researchers trace the lack of insect consumption back to the Ice Age, as colder conditions meant less insects. Others attribute it to long-standing colonial influences.

“The other side of that (lack of insect consumption) is this colonial legacy of going into a space where people did consume those foods,” Walther said. “Taking these racist colonial ideologies with us (thinking), ‘Oh, that’s disgusting,’ and, ‘Eating that is gross,’ and then labeling it as that has probably held us back for hundreds of years.”

Walther also noted that insect consumption could contribute to solving hunger concerns in the U.S. and is an option that should be explored more.

Students who attend the Entomophagy Taco Night will not only get to eat insect tacos but will also have the opportunity to learn more from club members and professors about entomophagy and its benefits.

Reach Ivy Secrest at science@collegian.com or on Twitter @IvySecrest.

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Ivy Secrest
Ivy Secrest, Content Managing Editor
Ivy Secrest is The Collegian's content managing editor. Secrest uses she/her/hers pronouns and has worked for The Collegian previously as a reporter and as life and culture director for the 2022-23 academic year. As a senior in the journalism and media communications department, Secrest enjoys reporting on environmental and social issues with a special interest in science communication. She is president of the Science Communication Club and is pursuing a minor in global environmental sustainability with hopes of utilizing her education in her career. Growing up in Denver, Secrest developed a deep love for the outdoors. She could happily spend the rest of her life hiking alpine environments, jumping into lakes, taking photos of the wildflowers and listening to folk music. She's passionate about skiing, hiking, dancing, painting, writing poetry and camping. Secrest's passions spurred her career in journalism, helping her reach out to her community and get involved in topics that students and residents of Fort Collins truly care about. She has taken every opportunity to connect with the communities she has reported in and has written for several of the desks at The Collegian, including news, life and culture, cannabis, arts and entertainment and opinion. She uses her connections with the community to inform both managerial and editorial decisions with hopes that the publication serves as a true reflection of the student body's interests and concerns. Secrest is an advocate of community-centered journalism, believing in the importance of fostering meaningful dialogue between press and community.

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