A locust-asparagus dish prepared by Brooklyn Bugs. Handout photo

Eastern Shore “Bug Banquet” Encourages Insects as Sustainable Food Source

Most of us know that entomology is the study of insects. But did you know that entomophagy is the study of edible insects?

Coming up next weekend, an event on Maryland’ Eastern Shore will dive into the world of insect agriculture and cuisine.

From April 3-6, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) in Somerset County will feature the work of celebrity Chef Joseph Yoon of Brooklyn Bugs in New York City. Organized by people invested in sharing the benefits of insect agriculture with the larger population,  the “series of adventurous events” offers a film, symposium, bug snacks, a family bug buffet, and a presentation of research conducted by UMES students. A 10-course semiformal bug banquet, prepared by Chef Yoon and the UMES Culinary Program, is the event’s grand finale.

“My vocation was, and is as a chef,”  said Chef Yoon, who is also an Edible Insect Ambassador. “When I saw a UN report on edible insects and that insect agriculture was among the ways to address food security, sustainability, and climate change it provided an incredible amount of inspiration and motivation. Once I started cooking with insects, I gained a lot of media attention. Soon I began working with universities and museums and institutions that I have so much respect for.”

Chef Joseph Yoon of Brooklyn Bugs brings his insect-based recipes to Maryland’s Eastern Shore next weekend. Courtesy photo

In 2021 Chef Yoon appeared on PBS Nova’s Edible Insects along with Ebony Jenkins, a UMES food and agricultural sciences doctoral student. As alumni of the show, they stayed in contact and discussed how they could collaborate.

At the beginning of her college studies, Jenkins wanted no parts of insects. “I was afraid of them,” she recalled. “But with my bachelor’s degree, I began to study honeybees and discovered how important they are to the environment. My son suffers from asthma and I learned that honey can combat those ailments. Had it not been for his health, I wouldn’t have pursued this course of study.”

With her Master’s, she studied pollinators and host preferences (what they like to eat and their preferred environment). Later, she took part in a competition in which she and her team repurposed empty chicken houses on the Eastern Shore for insect agriculture. “I wasn’t sure if people wanted to hear about it, but to my surprise, there’s a whole world out there.”  

The phobia of eating insects in America is real,” said Chef Yoon., “until they discover that it really does taste like food.”  Jenkins recalls a 2019 community event where, instead of being shunned by the squeamish, her team’s variety of flavored insects drew the most visitors.

“What we can do by sharing these ideas is to show that insects can be prepared deliciously,” said Yoon.  “We can ‘bugify’ dishes that we know and love like making cricket mac and cheese or mealworm lasagna. One of the big takeaways is that we’re not trying to take away anybody’s meat. We’re trying to add something to diversify the diet with something delicious and nutritious.”

“Come to the event,” Jenkins urged the unconvinced, adding that crickets are the gateway to edible bugs. “We’ll open up your eyes to the way insects can be used. And if you don’t want to eat, you can still see what other people enjoy.”

Click here for more information on UMES Presents Chef Joseph Yoon (and more edible insect photos)!

-Niambi Davis