Montana State University

MSU entomologist who promotes edible insects featured in New Yorker magazine

August 19, 2011 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

MSU student Brock Spain studies his plate of cricket stir fry during the annual bug buffet at Montana State University. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- A Montana State University entomologist who has spent more than two decades spreading the gospel of edible insects is featured in the Aug. 15 and 22 issue of the New Yorker magazine.

Author Dana Goodyear begins the article, titled "Grub," by describing how Florence Dunkel prepared dishes for the annual "bug buffet," held the last Friday of February in MSU's Plant Growth Center. Goodyear goes on to describe the growing acceptance across the world of insects as food - even gourmet food -- and their particular value in Third World countries.

The New Yorker article also features other players in the edible insect movement. Among them is Gene DeFoliart, one of Dunkels' professors when she was a student at the University of Wisconsin. Another comes from The Netherlands, which Dunkel says is rapidly passing the United States in the study and development of insects for food.

In Washington, D.C. this week to discuss the issue of Western cultures and their response to hunger and poverty, Dunkel said by telephone that the New Yorker article is another milestone in terms of public interest in her research and teaching program.

"It's exciting that this whole idea is becoming interesting in the United States," she said.

Dunkel said the New Yorker writer contacted her about a year ago for the article. The two talked by telephone and e-mail for several months, then Goodyear attended an international symposium in San Diego and an insect festival in Los Angeles. Goodyear finally came to Bozeman the day before the latest bug buffet to help Dunkel prepare some of the dishes she would serve her students and curious visitors. Included in the buffet were cricket tacos, stir fry grasshoppers, waxmoth larvae fritters and chocolate "chirp" cookies containing crickets. Goodyear describes the experience in the New Yorker article.

Dunkel has been an entomologist for 45 years, but said she didn't start eating insects or promoting their food value until much later. She was in Rwanda in 1985 when she noticed children collecting grasshoppers and selling them for food. After buying a bag for herself, she carried the grasshoppers back to her hotel and asked the French chef there to prepare them for her.

"It was then I discovered fresh grasshoppers were really good," she said. "They taste like soft-shelled crab."

Returning to the United States, Dunkel said she discovered a natural, abundant supply of grasshoppers at MSU's Agriculture Research Centers. In the late 1970s, she started serving canned grasshoppers to her students in a freshwater ecology course. After tasting them prepared fresh in Rwanda, she then served them every year since in her "Insects and Human Societies" course. Dunkel is now editor of the "Food Insects Newsletter," an international newsletter in its 23rd year. While in Washington, D.C. this week, she met with officials in the Peace Corps and U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss insects as they relate to hunger and poverty.

"Response to edible insects is often a good indicator of one's level of intercultural competency," she said.

She added that the USDA and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development are now in a one-year discussion phase called "Feed the Future." Dunkel expects that edible insects will play a serious role in the action they take.

Americans, in general, don't realize the value of insects in other cultures and they are repulsed by eating them, Dunkel has said in the past. But insects provide nutrition that can be valuable during drought. Termites, alone, provide protein and minerals to weaning children.

According to the New Yorker article, insects are about four times as efficient at converting feed to meat as are cattle. Ounce for ounce, many have the same amount of protein as beef. They are rich in nutrients like iron and zinc.

For a related article and more photos, see "MSU students, faculty try grasshopper stir fry, cricket tacos."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or