As many of you will be well aware of by now, entomophagy is a growing trend and companies are beginning to pop up all over the world. So first in this series on the people and companies at the forefront of entomophagy puts a spotlight on the US, giving a brief introduction to just a subset of those making waves over the pond.
First up are Little Herds, a nonprofit organisation doing amazing work paving the way for the rest of us by engaging the public in an effort to combat the stigma of eating bugs that’s developed in the West. Robert Nathan Allen and co. make their presence known at international conferences and through hosting events in the US at least once a month, engaging “governments, entrepreneurs, farmers, bakers, chefs, and businesses to change the way the other 20 percent of the world views food, and to help create a market for bug-eaters”. They work closely with Harman Johar of World Entomophagy, who not only supply Little Herds with crickets for their outreach program, but make tackling world hunger the driving force behind their company by putting research into famine relief products. Harman is now a G20 YEA Delegate for the US on the subject, and in the true spirit of the entomophagy community, World Ento actively supports new edible bug startups, providing free consultations and introductions to potential sponsors.
Little Herds, along with Aruna Antonella Handa from Alimentary Initiatives, World Ento and a host of other names in the edible bug community, organised the Future Food Salon in Austin TX earlier in 2014, bringing together edible bug companies, chefs and authors to showcase the world of entomophagy for the public. Another event followed in August 2014 and the next will be in Detroit in 2016, so watch this space!
Another of Harman’s partners is Aspire Food Group, formed by five MBA students from McGill University to take part in the prestigious Hult Prize competition, focusing on addressing food security (more info here). They went on to win the competition and have since established themselves in the US, Mexico and Ghana, selling both cricket powder and “recipe ready” whole crickets.
The challenge of overcoming the cultural taboo of eating insects is being met by three women in Boston. Laura D’Asaro, Rose Wang, and Meryl Natow together make up Six Foods, the producer of baked cricket flour chips called “Chirps”. They work with Chef Geoff Lukas and have been experimenting with different insect feed, since many insects such as mealworms and crickets take up the flavour of what they are fed. Six Foods plan to take things to the next level now that consumer demand is on the rise.
All Things Bugs from Gainesville FL are a company covering a slightly broader spectrum than your average edible bug company. Their founder, Dr. Aaron T. Dossey, started the company in 2011 with a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and has driven his company in a similar direction through research into new insect-based compounds and enzymes with potential in a range of fields from medicine to more mainstream agriculture. He was a Grand Challenges Explorations winner and was awarded funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop international aid products such as those from one of his projects, “Good Bugs: Sustainable Food for Malnutrition in Children”. To add their accomplishments, All Things Bugs also make what they call “the highest quality cricket powder in the industry” and have patented their methods.
Pat Crowley, Chapul’s founder, began his entomophagic journey in 2011 and now doubles as an advocate for changing our bias against eating bugs, having given a TED talk for the cause (and company) earlier this month (November 2014) – it’s one of the most thorough and emotive public engagements on the subject out there, and in Pat’s own words, “welcome to the revolution!”
Another cricket flour protein bar manufacturer is Greg Sewitz & Gabi Lewis’ company, Exo. They began whilst still studying at Brown University RI, and eventually moved to NYC to go full-time in 2013. After teaming up with a “rock star chef”, Kyle Connaughton, and successfully raising almost $55,000 in their Kickstarter campaign, they now produce their cricket bars in four flavours: Cacao Nut, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Blueberry Vanilla, and Apple Cinnamon. Exo bars are now even going to be found on JetBlue flights between JFK and LAX from 2015!
Number 3 on cricket bar hit-list is Hopper Foods, this time from Austin TX (also home to Little Herds). Led by Brit, Jack Ceadal, and his partners, John Tucker and Marta Hudecova, Hopper Foods aims to gradually break the American mindset by producing delicious protein energy bars that in no way resemble crickets in their whole form. This approach is a common theme both in the US and in Europe (which we will come to in a later post) and is looking like the most likely route to success in the West.
In step Tiny Farms, a San Fransisco-based company that spearheads an open source project designed to give those with the will a means for farming insects efficiently and to a food-grade standard. Their research and development spans the full spectrum, aiming to address habitat engineering, feed formulation, farm automation, management software and mass rearing technology.
They also provide consultancy support for up-and-coming edible bug companies and so far deal in crickets and mealworms, but are set for great heights in the near future. In fact, if it were not for Daniel Imrie-Situnayake, co-founder with Andrew Brentano and Jena Martin, and having been given the opportunity to witness their humble beginnings, Edible Bug Farm might never have existed, so we thank you! They are featured on this site here and through their Open Bug Farm Forum, an excellent resource for bringing together knowledge from across the entomophagy community.
One of Tiny Farms’ consultancy success stories is the Youngstown OH company, Big Cricket Farms. With their support, founder Kevin Bachhuber launched in April 2014 and they have since become the first urban farm in the US dedicated to producing food-grade crickets for people. Like many of the other players in this industry, Kevin holds the ecological implications of bug farming close to his heart and has done the rounds at universities, museums and other events throughout the US. For example, he, along with Leah Jones from Crickers and Mark Bomford from Nordic Food Lab, will be on the “Insect Panel” at Yale University’s Yale Food Systems Symposium this week (at time of posting).
Now for a couple of the chefs who are arguably reaching a wider audience through television appearances, radio shows and book sales than do many of the other “entopreneurs”. Daniella Martin was introduced to edible insects in Mexico whilst studying for her anthropology degree and has been hooked ever since. She is the Girl from Girl Meets Bug, a show where she cooks up a range of tasty looking bug recipes, from deep-fried scorpion to waxworm tacos.
Daniella also wrote a book – “Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet” and has more in the pipeline. One other notable flagship representative in the entomophagy world is David George Gordon, also known as The Bug Chef. He raises awareness as a demonstrative chef and award-winning author of “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook” (now published as a revised version) which is packed full of more edible bug recipes than anyone can possibly make use of.
There are several more to mention and they will perhaps appear in later posts and interviews, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll leave it at that for the US contingent. Let’s just hope that as this growing industry evolves, it continues to be represented by those that keep the core values of this aptly named “revolution” as their central ethos.