Dave Gracer was once a high school English teacher, but for the past 12 years he’s devoted his energies to promoting entomophagy, or the eating of insects. “I have no formal training in entomology or any other science,” he jokes. “That’s how easy it is to be an expert in this field.” An earnest guy with horn-rimmed glasses who looks a lot like George Clooney, Gracer also recently spoke at the Thrilling Wonder Stories conference, sitting on a panel titled “Future Food.”
To an audience alternately rapt and slightly disgusted, Gracer passed around crunchy mealworm snacks, lollipops with larvae embedded, and bread fabricated from cricket flour, as he explained the logic behind insect husbandry: “The manufacturing resources for insect production are already in place. We have companies today turning out mealworms and crickets for bait and pet food.” Indeed, humans have been eating free-range insects for millennia, including scorpion shish kebabs sold in Chinese markets, grasshoppers in Mexican tacos, and grubs eaten as snacks in West Africa and Brazil. Want more examples? The book Man Eating Bugs, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, offers dozens from around the world.
The protein content of insects is high, Gracer points out, and the potential for raising these “micro-livestock” efficiently on a worldwide scale seems promising. But Dave Gracer isn’t the only one promoting insect food sources. Currently working at McGill University in Montreal, Jakub Dzamba has envisioned a system that involves not only ranching insects but cultivating microorganisms as well. He calls it Third Millennium Farming, and his vision of the future reads like science fiction: “The city glows green at night as buildings’ photo-bioreactors grow algae 24 hours a day—thriving off the nutrients found in city wastewater—producing feed for the micro-livestock farming operations.” Dzamba says he’s now focusing on creating the perfect cricket flour, and recently participated in Farmers Market 2050, an exhibition at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche festival featuring food made by chef Nathan Isberg of the Atlantic restaurant from algae and crickets.
So what do the multinational corporations that produce a large share of the world’s food supply have to say about the edible future? In the late ’50s, at least, Kraft, was way ahead of the curve when it created and marketed Tang, a powdered and easily dissolvable orange juice substitute loaded with Vitamin C that was touted as a food of the future—partly by having astronauts drink it on actual space flights. But when we asked Kraft, General Mills, and Frito-Lay whether they had departments that specialized in futuristic food ideas, only General Mills got back to us, and refused to reply.
We hope that means “yes.”
Robert Sietsema, restaurant critic at the Village Voice since 1993 and a former contributor to Gourmet magazine, recently wrote about spectacular restaurant failures and Jell-O art for Gourmet Live. He’s also freelanced for Maxim and the Columbia Journalism Review, published four books of restaurant criticism, and been nominated for two James Beard Awards. Sietsema lives in Greenwich Village.