From field to food: a grasshopper dinner

Yukoners Chris Gilberds and Erin MacIntyre think more people should be eating insects

To ensure a successful grasshopper hunt, one must first look not at the ground, but to the skies.

The insects prefer hot, sunny weather, during which they’re more prone to be jumping around and therefore easier to spot and trap in a net, explained Chris Gilberds, who, along with his partner Erin MacIntyre, organized a hunt off Fish Lake Road the evening July 9.

And, like most hunts in the Yukon, the session wasn’t so much for recreation or catch-and-release, but for a much more practical purpose — making a meal.

Gilberds and MacIntyre are the de facto leaders of the Yukon’s small but enthusiastic movement to get insects incorporated into more people’s diets, something they say is both a tasty endeavour and one with both health and environmental benefits.

The pair began their own bugs-as-food journey about a year and a half ago, when Gilberds, a longtime cook, was managing the kitchen at the Mount Sima ski hill.

“I was ready to give up cooking completely,” he said.

“(I was thinking) ‘I just am bored to death with cooking. I’m bored with everything I make, there’s nothing interesting anymore, like, no matter what food I make, it’s just a slightly different version of some other boring thing.’”

However, on his breaks, Gilberds started to rekindle a childhood interest in insects that was sparked by watching National Geographic documentaries, including ones featuring people eating witchetty grubs in Australia. Browsing YouTube, he found a plethora of videos featuring people chowing down on bugs and decided to try it for himself, ordering “a whole arrangement” of insects online just to have something new to do.

“Some were good, some were absolutely horrendous,” he recalled.

Still on the edge about quitting cooking for good, Gilberds said he asked Mount Sima for a raise but was told it wasn’t in the budget.

“So I said, ‘Just let me put four items on the menu. So we put barbecue cricket tacos, cricket quesadillas, grasshopper nachos and … then we had an assortment of desserts like sweet-and-salty crickets, maple crickets, Nanaimo bars where the bottom was made from almond flour and cricket powder, and the middle is flavoured with black ants.”

With a whole new world of ingredients to work with, Gilberds said his love for cooking was rekindled, and a new passion — promoting insects as food — was found.

It also didn’t hurt that Gilberds has long been concerned about the impact of human activity on the environment, and insects, compared to other protein sources, have minimal negative consequences for the planet, requiring far less space and far fewer resources to raise.

“It was just a pleasant surprise that for once, something that I like is good for everything instead of the very opposite, so that was just a very cool surprise,” he said.

He and MacIntyre now run the “Northern Bug Munchers Society,” a Facebook group that shares insect recipes and articles and videos about the benefits of eating insects (did you know a pound of crickets contains more protein than a pound of beef?). They also put on bug dinners, where Gilberds whips up gourmet dishes with insects from around the world (cheese-and-roasted-red-pepper-stuffed Thai June bugs, anyone?), have brought human-grade-food crickets to the Independent grocery store, and host open-invite insect catching-and-eating expeditions.

“The main focus has to be on how they taste,” Gilberds, who has cricket powder daily, said.

“If they don’t taste good, no one’s going to eat them, doesn’t matter, unless you’re apocalypse-starving … We want to encourage people to eat them, we want to change people’s minds on them being an actual good.”

Grasshoppers, occasionally jokingly referred to as “land shrimp,” are a good starting point, both because they’re tasty, and getting them from field to plate is a relatively quick and easy process.

Get yourself a net (the kind that come to mind when you think about butterfly-catching, a small mesh thing attached to a long stick) and put yourself in a grassy area on a nice, sunny day.

Pop your catches into a container with ice in it and a lid (a bottle or a PVC pipe with a sock slipped over both ends works fine).

Wait until the grasshoppers stop moving, usually a couple of minutes.

Once they’re inanimate, separate the insects from the ice. Pull off the wings and wing covers before popping them into a pot of boiling water for at least five minutes. Their shells should transform from a brownish-green to a deep red, not unlike the transition lobsters make during cooking, and the boiling will ensure the neutralization of any potentially harmful parasites or bacteria.

Strain your grasshoppers before placing them into a hot pan with generous amounts of butter and garlic.

Cook until the garlic is browned, and then serve.

Although utensils can be used, grasshoppers are perhaps best (and most easily) eaten with the hands; grab a specimen by the legs, and using them as one would use a bone in a check drumstick, pull the body off with your teeth.

The flavour and texture is reminiscent of that of shrimp or soft-shell crab, albeit in much smaller quantities and with a little more crunch, since removing a grasshopper’s shell is both unnecessary and impractical.

“The bigger they are, the more plump and shrimpy they taste, because everything in the body is like this juicy stuff,” Gilberds said, popping one into his mouth.

“Oh, that one was eating some kind of sweetgrass.”

“Yeah, sometimes you can taste their gutload,” MacIntyre responded.

The pair acknowledged that there’s a huge “ick factor” that serves as a psychological block for many people when it comes to popping a cricket into their mouth, no matter how well-prepared it is or how good it actually tastes. There’s also a class factor, they said, because for a lot of Canadians, eating bugs is associated with a last-resort, apocalypse-situation or with being so destitute that you can’t afford “real” food.

But Gilberds compared the current mentality towards insects-as-food to the mentality surrounding sushi 20 years ago. He recalled going to eat at Edmonton’s first sushi restaurant, just as Japanese cuisine was starting to take off.

“I’m like, ‘Look at me! I’m cool and radical, I’m eating raw fish! And I’m a wild and dangerous guy!’ You know? And really, I’m just eating sushi,” he said.

“My mom, I told her, ‘Oh, I went out for sushi.’ (She said), ‘Oh my God, that’s crazy, those people are going to get worms and they’re going to die! You don’t eat raw fish, that’s just stupidity!’ Now she eats sushi, you know? And you can buy it in a gas station in Regina. So it’s totally normalized now. Insects are the same thing.”

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