Three boys sat rapt in their theater seats beaming at a selection of snacks.
The reason for the excitement wasn’t butter popcorn or Red Vines. Orrin Noon, 10, Arlo Davis, 11 and Axel Boily, 10, had just received samples of seasoned chapulines — Mexican grasshoppers — and cooked, farm-raised locusts, and the boys were ready to nosh on the crunchy critters.
The reaction didn’t surprise David George Gordon, a public speaker, naturalist and author known as the Bug Chef, who delivered a lecture before a screening of “The Muppet Movie” at the Gold Town Theater and came with samples of edible insects.
“Kids are often more adventurous than adults,” Gordon said.
Chapulines seemed to be the crowd favorite.
“The locusts are just too dry,” Davis said.
The locusts, which were served intact and on skewers, had a texture and flavor that could have passed for dried corn husk. However, there was no mistaking the black bug eyes that lifelessly peered toward the darkened theater ceiling for plant matter.
Adult palates seemed to align with the boys’ verdict.
“I like the chapulines because of the spices,” Steve SueWing said.
Gordon also brought cricket-containing energy bars, and the general consensus was the energy bars tasted basically like any other energy bar.
“I’ve never had anyone say, ‘I can really taste the cricket,’” Gordon said to laughs.
During the talk that preceded the taste test, Gordon made the case for entomophagy — the practice of eating insects — in the U.S. The event was part of the Science on Screen program, which pairs movies with science-oriented presentations.
“Eighty percent of the world’s cultures eat insects,” Gordon said in a pre-presentation interview.“We’re in the clear minority that thinks it’s weird.”
He pointed out most people have unknowingly been eating insects the entirety of their lives since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowable limits for bugs.
Gordon said there would be benefits to intentionally eating and farming bugs, too.
He said bugs are nutritionally dense — pound for pound, cricket has about as much protein as ground beef — and have less negative impact on the environment.
Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than cattle or pigs, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They require less land and water than cattle, and a 2013 FAO report states bugs may pose less risk of transmitting infections to humans and wildlife.
Plus Gordon, who wore necklaces bearing likeness of both John the Baptist and a cockroach, said bugs are often compatible with religious dietary restrictions. John the Baptist is described in the Bible as eating locusts and honey.
“They’re like the official Bible food,” Gordon said. Some types of locusts are kosher, too.
Gordon said while Southeast Alaska’s climate may not make it seem hospitable to farming bugs for cooking, there were two types of insects he said could do well in Juneau.
He said mealworms — they’re the larval form of beetles, not actually worms — and crickets are hearty bugs that are relatively easy to farm.
He said there are devices about the size of a coffee maker that work great for raising mealworms and a garage could be easily converted into a cricket farm.
“I have a friend who has a cricket farm in Denver,” Gordon said. “It gets pretty cold there in the winters, too.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt
Questions from the crowd
After his presentation and before samples were passed out, Gordon took some questions from the crowd.
The answers included information that aspiring bug-eaters might want to know. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: Can you eat bugs purchased at a pet store?
Gordon said when he was cooking with bugs more than 20 years ago, there weren’t a ton of options, and he would buy crickets from the same suppliers as pet stores.
“You can eat the bugs you buy at a pet store,” Gordon said.
However, he said bugs specifically farmed for human consumption would probably be the better bet. Additionally, he discouraged people from harvesting bugs in their backyard because of the risk of pesticides and encouraged people to only eat cooked bugs to decrease the risk of illness.
Q: What’s the tastiest bug?
Gordon said tarantula is up there, but ultimately waxworms might be his favorite. The tiny white moth larvae that might be familiar to fishermen eat beeswax, and Gordon said that diet positively affects their taste.
“They’re pretty sweet,” Gordon said. “When they’re baked, they taste like pistachios.”