Go Eat Worms!
Senior Chloé Bulpin 15 IL stashes packages of water bugs, silkworms, crickets – even armored scorpions – in her freezer when hosting dinners to normalize eating insects.
On a near-freezing afternoon in January, Chloé Bulpin 15 IL focuses on the street signs she’s driving past in Olneyville, a boisterous Providence neighborhood filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic and pedestrians shuffling bags of fresh produce. The senior’s eyes light up when an unmarked storefront snaps into view. According to Google Maps, we’ve reached Narine Market, an Asian shop known for its stock of exotic edible insects.
Without a shred of hesitation, Bulpin enters the busy store and deftly moves to the area where employees process new shipments. A butcher watches nonchalantly as she digs into an unmarked cardboard box to pull out packets of frozen crickets. “It’s almost impossible to find these types of treats anywhere else,” she explains while examining the large brown bugs. “Usually I have to order online from a vendor in Thailand. I’m still waiting on a package of scorpions to come in the mail.”
Bulpin was doing some extra grocery shopping to prepare for The Bug Banquet, an ongoing project that grew out of an extensive independent study of the benefits of eating insects. With the help of Alex Gandarillas and Matt Kominsky, who are majoring in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University, Bulpin whips up delicious pan-tossed crickets, Korean-style marinated silkworms and waterbug balls. At her first dinner party in November, guests quickly devoured the creepy-crawly dishes, which are packed with protein, iron, magnesium, calcium and essential fatty acids.
“My project forces people to confront their unfounded fears surrounding entomophagy – the custom of eating bugs,” Bulpin explains. “It’s been estimated that 80% of the world’s population already consumes insects on a daily basis. I'm hoping to redefine the parameters of Western food through education and the art of presentation.”
Bulpin (who bears a resemblance to British actress Keira Knightley) was first introduced to the nutritional benefits of entomophagy while taking The Art of Communicating Science, a recurring studio taught by Lecturer Lucy Spelman in conjunction with various faculty members in Illustration. As part of an independent study project last year, she began working on a cookbook full of tasty, bug-based recipes. But as she pondered consumer behavior patterns in the US and elsewhere in the developed world, she decided to launch a more intensive project designed to facilitate conversation and squash squeamishness about eating insects.
“Food is a highly sensory experience,” Bulpin points out. “In order to convince anyone of the intellectual merits surrounding insect-eating, I had to get people directly involved – one bite at a time. And I’ve found that people are apt to eat almost anything, especially if the insects are ground into flour or hidden in a pizza topping.”
Aside from the health benefits, there are plenty of other good reasons to nibble on a handful of baked termites. According to a 2013 report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world population will grow from just over 7 billion people this year to 9 billion by 2050. Current food production will need to double in order to feed this growing population. Given the risks of overfishing oceans or cultivating diminishing tracts of land, mass farming of edible insects has long been championed as among the most viable solutions to this complex global problem.
“Compared to beef and poultry, [insects] are much cheaper to produce,” explains Bulpin. “They reproduce rapidly and require less feed and water. They also bulk up faster because they are poikilothermic (cold-blooded) and need fewer calories than warm-blooded livestock.”
Bulpin intends to invite her peers on another gastronomical adventure when she hosts at dinner at the RISD President’s House in March. “Moving forward my goal is simply to present insects as a food choice that could successfully alleviate stress on the earth’s limited resources,” she explains. “Given the positive reactions at the Bug Banquet, I’m hopeful that people will reconsider this sustainable, economically viable, nutritional, culturally rich – and frankly, very tasty – food.”