Bugs for Dinner, a new business based in Freeport, has set out to introduce Maine people to the world of edible insects. Crickets, mealworms, grasshoppers, ants — these protein-packed creepy crawlies may just become the next new superfood.
“As far as I know, we’ll be the first insect farmers in Maine,” said Bill Broadbent, who created Bugs for Dinner with the help of his family.
The official website, bugsfordinner.com, launched in late January with an event at the Freeport Public Library. During the presentation, attendees were given the chance to try cookies and energy bars made with cricket flour (essentially dried, milled crickets). And for the most daring of the crowd, there were plates of whole crickets, baked and covered in chocolate or dusted with spices.
As can be expected in a culture where eating insects is considered taboo, only about 50 percent of the attendees stepped forward to try a whole cricket.
“We are trying to change people’s attitude toward it,” Broadbent explained. “Here in Maine, we’re already known for eating bugs — bugs of the sea — lobsters.”
Why not eat bugs?
It all started a few months ago when Broadbent’s 13-year-old son, Sam, asked him, “Why don’t we eat insects?”
Broadbent, a lifelong businessman who currently develops mobile applications for veterinarian offices, didn’t have an answer for his son. So he consulted the Internet.
Through just a bit of research, Broadbent discovered that insects are high in protein, vitamins and minerals. In addition, insects are economical and sustainable, using significantly less land, water and food to farm than traditional livestock.
“I couldn’t find one reason why we don’t eat insects,” he said. “Actually, it made a lot of sense to eat them.”
So Broadbent purchased a few chili lime baked crickets from Don Bugito, an edible insect street food project based in San Francisco, and he ate his first insect.
“It was really gross the first time,” Broadbent said. “It was really hard to eat. But once you have one or two, you’re whole mind changes. It’s amazing. It’s all in your head.”
So what does a cricket taste like?
According to a taste test performed by numerous BDN staffers, baked crickets are slightly nutty, with a crunch like a popcorn kernel on the verge of popping. Similarly, pieces of dried cricket tend to get stuck in your teeth.
To people willing to give edible insects a try, a word of caution: Those who are allergic to shellfish have been found to be allergic to insects.
“Looking to the future, we’d like to do things with school groups — teach about edible insects and insect farming,” Broadbent said. “I’ve found that kids are a lot faster to try edible insects than adults.”
That includes Broadbent’s two children. Sam recently wrote a paper on insect farming for school, and Julia, 11, led an edible insect demonstration for her Girl Scout troop. Both have been a big part of the business from the get-go.
Bugs as a necessity
Through their research, the Freeport family has uncovered a small but growing community of edible insect farmers in the U.S. and Europe.
“It’s really picked up in the past few years,” Broadbent said. “It’s gotten big in Europe.”
But protein-packed insects aren’t a new food source for the rest of the world.
Today, it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of the human population consumes edible insects. Many of the most popular insect foods today originate from Mexico, once home to the Aztecs, perhaps the most famous insect consumers in history.
Since 2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationals has been working on projects pertaining to edible insects in many countries worldwide. With the prediction that the human population will reach 9 billion people by 2050, sustainable and economical food sources are becoming increasingly important.
According to the FAO, a variety of insects contain high-quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans. They’re also more sustainable than conventional livestock. For example, crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep and two times less than pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Insects also emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than livestock; they can be grown on organic waste; they take much less space to farm; and they require significantly less water than livestock.
Insect farming in Maine
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that Broadbent, originally from just outside Syracuse, spent several years living in New Mexico, where he often observed his neighbors eating Chapulines — spicy grasshoppers. It wasn’t until 2009 that he moved to Maine in search of a better education for his two children.
Broadbent plans for Bugs for Dinner to be a multifaceted business. Before spring, he aims to offer more than 100 insect-imbued products on the website from companies all over the world. Also within that time, he plans to establish his own insect farm, starting with crickets and grasshoppers, and create his own insect-based foods. He’s currently working with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to ensure he has the proper permits for his endeavor.
By spring, Bugs for Dinner plans to have a line of homemade insect-based foods, such as cookies and candies, ready to offer at local farmers’ markets.
Broadbent understands that some people will simply purchase his products for the novelty of it — for a gag gift or the excitement of trying it once. But he’s hoping that some customers will embrace insects as an affordable, healthy and tasty superfood.