Insect Deli serves meal worms, crickets and global nutrition awareness

Those ants on a log aren’t raisins; they’re real ants. And they’re much healthier than a bag of chips or candy. At the annual Great Insect Fair, hosted by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, one professor and several students in the Department of Nutritional Sciences cooked and served delicious insects and tried to make it clear why people all over the world are eating bugs.

“Insects are extremely abundant in many countries and are relied upon for food. People in Mexico eat almost eighty kinds of insects,” said Dorothy Blair, assistant professor of nutritional sciences. “They’re much more nutritious than the snack items that people eat.”

The Insect Deli served a few items this year: chocolate-covered crickets, meal worms, and wax moth larvae. The insects they served are highly nutritious, said Blair, having high protein, low cholesterol, and also containing many valuable nutrients. But just to make the food a little more appealing, Blair and her students made a few dips for the insects and served them with tortillas or in wraps.

Blair has been organizing and working at the Insect Deli for over a decade. She first became involved in the project as a way to increase awareness of global nutrition. “I’m not telling people that they need to eat insects, only that it is a very real part of people’s day-to-day life in many other countries.”

Blair teaches a course on global nutrition, and students taking the class participate in service activities, such as volunteering at the Insect Fair. Alicia Kroat, a nutrition major and one of those students volunteering at the insect fair this year, said that the whole experience was very eye opening. “It was really unique to see how everyone reacted to the idea of eating bugs—not just children’s reactions, but parents’ reactions, too. The kids were eager to eat insects, but the parents tended to be squeamish, and some wouldn’t let their children eat anything we had prepared. It made me realize how removed most of the American population is from the idea of eating insects in their diet.”

Kroat and Meghan Schiffer, another nutrition major who volunteered at the Insect Deli, created a series of educational bulletin boards to teach people fun facts about nutrition and insects (for example, did you know that caterpillars have more muscles than humans?) and to raise awareness of other cultures’ food habits.

“Our country has always been a huge melting pot of cultures. It would be good to continue to include other cultures with ours,” said Kroat. After graduation, Kroat wants to work in a job that involves global food problems. “The rest of the world depends on insects, so I thought this would provide some good insight,” she said.

Of the food served this year, Kroat said she enjoyed the chocolate-covered crickets the most, noting that it reminded her of eating a crunchy candy bar, like a Kit Kat. And she wasn’t alone; many children return to the insect deli each year to snack on yummy chocolate-covered bugs. Those children, Blair hopes, will walk away with more than just a tasty, unusual snack in their stomachs; if they leave with a better understanding of how other cultures look at bugs, she’ll know the deli was a success.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010