Charlie the cheesemonger setting up a table at a fundraiser event at our local children's museum
If you're ever in Marquette, stop by Everyday Wines to check out his cheese counter!
It's been years since I wrote a blog! I expect many people's lives look a lot different since December of 2020; mine is practically unrecognizable.
In the midst of so much loss, I also earned tenure in 2020. Without a carrot dangling in front of me anymore, it was difficult to conceive of what was next in my career. Therefore, it felt like a good time to allow my husband to pursue his dreams. So, we made a big move, and our lives are now based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where Charlie is running his own cut-to-order cheese counter! We actually did not know what this meant for me when we made the decision to move, but we took the leap anyways. I am lucky that it worked out that I can continue to teach for Wayne State online, and I travel to Detroit when needed.
As a food anthropologist, it is really fun to surround myself with the specialty foods he is able to carry in his shop. Yes, the foods are delicious, but the stories may be the best part of it. For instance, Wilde Weide—pronounced VIL-da VEYE-duh—is a gouda made with painstaking care as part of a 300-year old family operation. The cows, the cheesemakers, and the cheese are the only residents on a small Norwegian island. Each day, eight wheels are produced, and they are serenaded with an aria as they are set to rest for their year+ aging process (The creamery is run by a husband and wife team, and she has operatic training for the University of Amsterdam). When their product is ready to sell, it's loaded on to a row boat to be paddled across to the mainland for distribution. And of course, it is absolutely delicious.
As we got more into specialty foods it became apparent how climate change will dramatically impact the futures of some of our favorites. It's easy to imagine how increased frequency of extreme weather events could wipe out the little Wilde Weide operation. In general, extreme weather in dairying ecozones can impact availability of fresh water, which will impact milk supply. Dairy can be viewed as an "endangered food" whose future availability is at risk due to climate change.
Charlie does not just carry cheese, he carries all sorts of specialty pairings and accoutrements, and his second love after cheese is bean-to-bar chocolate. Chocolate is most certainly an endangered food, with some projections suggesting the cacao plant could go extinct by 2050. That's only a few decades away! Yet there is no inkling of a problem when it comes to the widespread availability and low cost of a chocolate candies at any convenience checkout counter. How can this be? Well, 70% of the world supply of chocolate is grown in West Africa, where costs are kept down by relying on human trafficking, slavery, and child labor. So if your chocolate bar does not specifically indicate that it was not sourced in West Africa, you can pretty safely conclude that at least some of it was, and that its purchase is contributing to these inhumane practices. Even expensive "artisan" chocolate you pick up at Whole Foods or local co-op typically use cacao mass, which is bulk produced and sold wholesale without any sourcing information.
Enter bean-to-bar chocolate. This name is just a description of the process - chocolate that is produced directly from cacao beans as opposed to bulk mass - and this small-scale production gained popularity because differently sourced beans carry different flavor profiles. However, what emerged is better sourcing information, and even growers producing their own chocolates, so although something labeled "bean-to-bar" does not promise better labor practices, many small scale producers celebrate the fact that their chocolate has been sustainably and ethically sourced and provide that information to consumers.
One of the most exciting chocolate brands we have been introduced to is To'ak out of Ecuador, who call themselves "tree-to-bar" producers. They are known as a luxury brand, and some of their offerings are absurdly expensive ($450 absurd), but many are quite reasonable in cost for what they are offering ($20/bar reasonable). To'ak started as a rainforest conservation project. The Ecuadorian cacao variety called “Nacional” traces its genetic lineage back to the first-known cacao trees domesticated by humanity, about 5,300 years ago, and today it is on the brink of extinction.
I immediately liked To'ak because they pay cacao growers the highest prices of any chocolate company I've come across: 3-9x more than the Fair Trade price. I personally like knowing that my dollars are supporting the laborers and not just the capitalists. But one To'ak line got me really excited, their Alchemy line designed in collaboration with Chef Charles Michel. I was first introduced to Chef Michel through the Netflix international cooking competition the Final Table. It was clear that he was passionate about food as a connection to nature and I immediately was drawn to him and his style. THEN he cooked with chapulines! I am used to periodically seeing insects pop up on cooking competitions and other food shows, but they are often featured in the Halloween episode, or generally sensationalized, but Chef Michel spoke about them respectfully without any exoticization. And he made them delicious! He won that week's challenge. I personally believe that the acceptance of insects as food is going to be largely reliant on chefs capturing their unique flavor profile and giving people cravable food experiences they can't find with any other product.
So I was super excited to see he was not only involved with To'ak but that he helped create an Amazonian ants chocolate. And oh my gosh, is the product sublime. Ants are notable for having formic acid as a chemical defense mechanism and pheromone communicator, which gives them an acidic, citrusy flavor. This chocolate plays with this flavor so well, and it is the distinct anty acidity that is left on your palate at the finish. It leaves you wanting to go back for another taste - the ants make you want to go back - and that's what we need more of in this edible insects movement.
The Best Dang Cricket Cookies
While "chocolate chirp" cookies have an adorable name, I am not convinced they are the best introduction to edible insects, especially here in the US. The original chocolate chip cookie recipe dates back to the 1930's and since then it has been a staple American treat. So many families have their own "secret recipe" and there's nothing better than catching them right out of the oven. That's why when we change the well-known, deeply-loved treat to include insects as an ingredient, people are willing to give it a try, but did we actually win them over? In my opinion, we just gave them a chocolate chip cookie that tastes "wrong." So that's why I came up with a new cookie recipe that I like to make for people.
• 2 cups all-purpose baking flour
• 1/2 cup cricket powder (100% ground-up crickets!)
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp. ground cloves
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 Tbs. fresh coffee grounds
• 1 cup butter, room temperature
• 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 egg
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line large cookie sheets with parchment or grease well. Set aside. I use four cookies sheets and baked in two batches in order to avoid cookies spreading into each other.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, cricket powder, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, coffee and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until well blended and “fluffy.” It takes a few minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated and then add the vanilla.
3. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Place the dough, in 1-inch balls, about 2-inches apart on the cookie sheets.
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned on the edges but soft in the middle. Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before moving to a wire rack to fully cool.
Edible Cleveland does a beautiful job reporting their experience with serving insects on the dinner table
I must confess. I don't read every single article that comes out about insect eating. For one, they are getting too numerous! And that's a GREAT thing! But I cannot keep up with it all. Secondly, I get a little tired of the typical story arc that starts with grossing out the reader and then telling them that some people out there are saying we should eat them to save the world. But today a friend of mine sent me a picture of the most recent issue of Edible Cleveland:
First off, I was excited to see insects as the cover story. I was then immediately impressed with the photo that is not there to shock but rather to capture the eye with beauty. And then finally, the little query "Edible?" at the bottom. In our "biz" we have had many discussions about which words we should use to convey what we are studying, selling, promoting, etc. We have already seen a shift away from technical-sounding "entomophagy" and now we all have been using "edible insects" much more. I used this phrase in the title of my just-published book and I already am shifting away from it as well. "Edible" does not properly reflect insect foods because "edible" sounds more like you can eat it. Meaning it won't hurt you. But the word does not do much to convey that insects provide nourishing, real, whole, natural, and tasty options. So in that cover image, which one is a better representative of "edible?" Well a good case could be made that the gummy worms that are made of who-knows-what and offer no nutritional benefits should be called "edible" while the mealworms should be considered food.
All of that just from the cover! So I was intrigued enough to take a look online and check out the story. Well, there were TWO stories, so the surprises just kept coming!
The first one, the main story, opened with:
"Friends gather around a table, lavishly set within the constraints of urban sophistication, for a dinner party with a theme."
Yes! We gather to eat! It's a social thing! Let's celebrate that eating bugs brings people together! Do you know how many public bug banquets are run in this country each year?? Well, me neither, but it's many! I'd wager to guess that it averages to about one-per-state a year. And this does not include the the number of times friends have ventured to try insects at a dinner party like the one they are describing here.
As the story went on they playfully talk about legs and eyes, but it is clear they are not going for shock or laughs. That doesn't work in their crowd, why would it work for their readers?
"Hoping for a laugh, one guest mumbles to draw attention to the leg, dabbed with aioli, dangling from a corner of his mouth. His antics prompt eye-rolling and some light chuckling."
And in the spirit of things continuing to get better and better, the theme of their dinner party was actually crustaceans, not insects. So shrimp were on the menu alongside the crickets and mealworms they were serving therefore any critique one could make about wanting to avoid insects could easily be spun around to point out that it's hypocritical if you are a fan of the shrimp cocktail. Having these together on the menu makes for great fodder while looking to Leviticus to try to understand the taboo that Westerner's have towards eating insects:
“Whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you,” according to The Book of Leviticus. “Yet these you may eat among all the winged insects: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to jump on the earth. These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds. But all other winged insects are detestable to you.”
So if it's supposed to be the Old Testament that is driving our food choices, well then locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers should be everyday fare. Since that doesn't answer it, they decided to look to science. And where did they get their science??? Surprise! My book! Stop making me fall in love with you, Edible Cleveland! They discus chimpanzees, australopithecines, colonial settlers.. the whole shebang! And even better, they flush it out with additional examples that I did not provide in the book.
The article wraps up with discussing how insects are "abundant and Earth friendly" and closes with a toast:
"For now, I propose a toast. For those alive today who will see this century through. For our grandchildren and their grandchildren, who will inherit the table we are setting for them, let’s raise a glass: May your choice to eat insects be made around a lavish table surrounded by friends, rather than hunched over a termite mound working a crude bone tool."
It was the end of the article that directs the reader to a recap of their bug taco party online. This second piece captures the fun of experiencing new things together with friends. And the final surprise was that they got their insects from my good friends at Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch!
What a fun Friday afternoon. Thank you, Edible Cleveland!
Don't Yuck My Yum
I just learned the phrase "don't yuck my yum." It's defined in the urban dictionary as "do not say that my food tastes bad," but to me it is much more meaningful than that. Yeah, you might be eating some reheated french fries and have to ask someone to not yuck your yum as they judge your meal decisions, but that is nothing compared to the yuck that Westerners have put on the foods of entire cultures of indigenous peoples. Clearly, I am thinking of edible insects here.
I am commonly asked "why don't we eat bugs in Western cultures," and the answer is quite complicated. I usually start with the environment - outside of the tropics, insects are less abundant and much more seasonal. Since this is also true of plant foods in these regions, the first people to make lives for themselves in northern environments had to rely on hunting since animals can eat the woody plant browse foods that we cannot digest; and then we can eat them. So in these diets, insects would be nutritionally redundant. However, in recent years, I have been getting better at decoloninizing anthropology and make it a point to also mention how here in the United States, when Europeans came to this continent with their insect-free diets, they were appalled that indigenous diets included insects and considered it part of their beast-like nature (Columbus used the phrase como bestias). Although rarely discussed, Columbus used these beliefs as justification for establishing the trade of indigenous islanders as slaves.
I have upcoming publications that detail this history more thoroughly, but my point here is that
how we talk about food matters.
Someone left a comment on my youtube video - "Sorry, you'll never get us to back to 10,000 BCE." And once I had to answer to someone live on air in a radio interview who made a comment about "devolution." What these kinds of remarks fail to recognize is that billions of people today eat insects. These are people just the same as you and me. They are not relics of the stone age nor are they less evolved, they are people representing the beautiful things that make us human; the ability to exhibit dietary flexibility in order to make lives for ourselves in a wide range of environments.
Remembering back to that radio interview, I am proud of what I said when put on the spot. I made the counter-argument that people who eat insects have been using their resources much more wisely than we have been which is why we are looking to their food choices as alternatives to the industries we've created that are destroying the environment. Their way of life is much more sustainable, and the only reason why it might not appear that way is because Western culture has been pushed on them for hundreds of years.
When I give talks and offer insect-based snacks, it does not matter to me if people will not try them; however, I ask people to respect them. Our aversions and disgust reactions are culturally based, and we are products of our culture and thus it is completely normal to have those responses. But we do not need to degrade others with our choices. Insects are a nutritious, environmentally friendly food source that people have been wise to utilize for millions of years. Instead of asking "why don't we eat insects" the better question may be "why did we stop eating insects?" which can only be answered by addressing our colonial history.
FOR ALL RECIPES, WE USED ASPIRE 100% PURE CRICKET POWDER
"The Early Bird Gets The Cricket” Muffins - 2015 WINNER!
yield: 12 MUFFINS
prep time: 15 MINUTES
cook time: 25 MINUTES
total time: 40 MINUTES
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup 100% pure cricket powder (or up to 1/3 flour ratio for more protein!)
1 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup milk
3/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups carrot, grated (about 3 medium carrots)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup raisins
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or place cupcake wrappers in a standard-size, 12-cup muffin pan.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cricket powder, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, applesauce, brown sugar, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla extract.
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk just until all ingredients are incorporated. Gently stir in the carrots, 1/2 cup coconut, raisins and pineapple.
5. Divide the mixture between the muffin cups. Cups should be filled to the top.
6. Sprinkle tops evenly with remaining coconut.
7. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until muffin tops spring back when poked and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
8. Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin. Serve plain or with butter, if desired.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 – 3 days, or freeze.
Chocolate Cup with Cashew and Cricket Cream Ingredients
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup cashews
½ cricket flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 ½ whipping cream
2 tbsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1.Blend together the cashew and cricket flour in a blender until smooth (add a few tbsp of water to help get a creamy texture)
2. Add in 2 tbsp of vanilla extract to the blended mixture
3. In a separate bowl whip 1 ½ cups of heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form.
4. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar to the whipping cream slowly and blend until you can’t see sugar lumps on the surface
5. Take the cashew mixture and fold it into the whipped cream making sure not to overmix.
7. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a metal piping tip
8. Melt the chocolate chips and add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil.
9. Take 1 tbsp of the chocolate and pour into mini cupcake tin liner and put the tray into the fridge.
10. After the chocolate has cooled pipe a small amount of the cream into the center of the cups (add any kind of fruit on top).
11. Add 2 tbsp of the melted chocolate on top until fully covered and set to cool for 20 minutes.
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 100% pure cricket powder
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray 9- x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, then set aside.
2. In large bowl, whisk cornmeal with flour, cricket powder, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. Set aside.
3. In medium bowl, whisk milk with melted butter, honey, eggs, and vanilla until combined. Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture, and use spatula or wooden spoon to stir until just combined.
4. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let corn bread cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Space Hop Flat Bread with Amogio Sauce
2 cups of diced tomatoes; no need to peel
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 or more cloves or garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons or more of minced basil
a squirt of lemon juice
pinch table salt
pinch finely ground pepper
2 cups flour
1 cup Cricket flour
1 1/4 water
1 tsp salt
1 tbl spoon mixed spices (garlic, rosemary, salt, dried tomato pieces, and whichever pepper one prefers)
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees
2 . Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and begin kneading with hands
this will take approximately 5 minutes until it is a non powdery ball of dough.
3. Once the substance is non powdery, roll into a ball and cut in half
cut the two halves in half and continue until cutting the halves until there are sixteen slices
4. Roll each of these into a ball
5. Put the individual rolls on a cutting board and take a rolling pin, rolling each ball into flat cakes about 1/4 inch thick
6. Finally same spices but cut with 2-3 table spoons of olive oil based over the top thinly with a cooking brush, leaning towards not enough vs too much
7. Cook in oven for 7-8 minutes checking them to make sure they don't bubble
8. Put Amogio ingredients through the blender and mix well until desired consistency
Chocolate Cricket Bundt Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 100% pure cricket powder
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar (optional)
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cricket powder, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended. The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream and the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a rack. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve when cool.
Alternative "mini cakes" option: Line mini muffin pan with mini muffin paper cups, fill each cup about 3/4 full, and bake for 20-25 mins.
Bread Machine Rosemary Cricket Bread
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup 100% pure cricket powder
1. Pour the water into the pan of a bread machine, then sprinkle in the yeast and sugar.
2. Let the mixture sit in the bread machine until a creamy foam forms on top of the water (about 10 minutes).
3. Sprinkle in the salt, then add the olive oil, thyme, garlic powder, rosemary and flour.
4. Set the machine for light crust setting, and start the machine.
Recipe is for a 1.5 lb loaf.
Cook time ~ 3hrs.
The insects-as-food movement is a tricky one. On one hand, there are many people who can be rallied to support sustainable food resources, but on the other, there is an immense disgust factor related to the idea of eating insects. How do we get around this? I think the answer lies in processed food. We have long removed ourselves from what we eat. We don't eat "cow" or "pig," we eat "beef" and "pork" from tidy little packages from the supermarket. Many people get their daily vegetables in the form of Odwalla juice or something else similar instead of eating them in their natural form. Why then would we expect people to open a can of insects - legs, antennae and all - and start chowing down? I think the best way to get people to start eating insects is not to eat the insects, but eat the benefits of insects. Cricket flour is opening that door.
Chapul is a small company with a wonderful mission who makes protein bars out of cricket flour. I had the chance to share these bars with a couple of friends and colleagues. Here is a brief transcript of two of my friends trying the peanut butter chocolate bar:
M: Tastes good. It's chocolate-y
D: Peanut butter chocolate-y
M: Maybe a little light on the peanut butter, but good. It's more peanut -y than peanut butter-y. *reads ingredients* You can definitely taste the dates.
D: Can you taste the bugs?
M: No, of course not. It's good.
D: The bars are dense and satisfying, not oily, you know?
M: Yeah, they're good.
There needs to be more people cooking with cricket flour in order to see the whole potential. It is not something just for protein bars; it can be incorporated in all sorts of baked goods and main dishes. Check out this video about Future Food Salon providing opportunities for people to try many of these foods. They will be in Austin, TX next month and are looking to book in other US cities in upcoming months. A great way to try these foods wherever you are is to sponsor the Austin event being thrown by Little Herds, North America's first charity dedicated to promoting edible insects. Check out the great rewards in their crowd sourcing project!
Additionally, if you or someone you know is interested in trying to incorporate crickets into a dish, get in touch! I will get you in contact with the right people. Who knows, your recipe may be used in an upcoming Future Food Salon!
Julie Lesnik received her PhD studying the role of termites in the diet of fossil hominins and has since started exploring insects as food more broadly.