That quote rings very true and comes from the Entomo Farms blog that reflects on their time at the conference. Entomo Farms was one of my earliest supporters for the conference. I received an email from Jarrod Goldin early in my planning stages asking me how they could be involved. My answer at that very early time, and truthfully it was the same to almost everyone until just before the event, was "just show up."
My biggest fear was that no one was going to come. I knew if I could get people here, that I could put together a great event. But the truth is, before this, not very many people knew who I was. Why would they come? I was hoping that the city of Detroit would be a draw, and that people would want to come just to see the food and art revolution that is driving this city forward. Additionally, I had faith in the passion of people interested in edible insects. I put out a call for abstracts in the fall of 2015 and then waited. And waited. Amazingly, by the early deadline in January, I had a good number of submissions and knew I could make this conference run with just that if need be. By the final deadline, it was clear that I would have a jam-packed program.
All of this came together because of social media. The only reason I even have a twitter account is because the ento community is so active on there. So I relied heavily on it, and ultimately it worked to bring together 200 people in Detroit.
We had three days of programming and I was completely in charge of what that would look like. I have been to A LOT of conferences, so tried to pick-and-choose things that I liked, and overall, I think it worked well. I am especially proud of the following decisions that I made:
- All of the program was mixed and held in a single session. Although parallel sessions allow for more presenters and more specialized talks, our field is still young and we have so much still to learn from each other. It was one of the first things I wrote when I created the conference webpage: As pioneers in this movement, we are each responsible to portray the benefits, realities, struggles, and potential of insects as food the best we can to our peers. It is the goal of the conference to provide everyone, whether experts or novices, with a better understanding of the culture of insects as food so that we can each go forward and inspire change.
- I did not just have one keynote speaker, instead I had seven, and they were spectacular:
Meghan Curry (Bug Vivant)
Jarrod Goldin (Entomo Farms, Canada)
Paul Vantomme (FAO, Italy)
Jeff Tomberlin (Texas A&M Dept of Entomology)
Pat Crowley (Chapul)
Ricardo Carvajal (Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C.)
- There was a discussion panel dedicated to ethics. I figured if we start having these conversations early about how to best handle issues surrounding labor, equity and equality, environmental consciousness, cultural appropriation, etc, then we will be able to adjust as need be as the industry grows and changes.
- The vendors expo was open to the public. We had at least 50 people come to the expo that were not at the conference or involved with edible insects in any way. This was my chance to engage Detroit directly in this movement, and the variety of foods that the vendors had available helped to make one hell of an impression.
- Finally, I worked hard to support the travel and accommodation of international participants, especially those traveling from countries that are traditionally underrepresented in academic programming but where edible insects have long been a part of their culture. Presenters at the conference represented 12 countries, providing a valuable diversity of perspectives.
Looking back, putting together this conference was a behemoth of a task! I don't think I realized how much work I put in until the conference was here and running, and running smoothly! I definitely had help from my department and my students, and I leaned on Robert Nathan Allen, Marianne Shockley, and Wendy Lu McGill for guidance along the way. I am ever so grateful to everyone who helped, and honored that so many people showed up. I honestly believe that this gathering of minds in Detroit will leave an indelible impression on the future of insects as food.