Eating Insects Athens 2018 – A Recap of Industry Growth

Eating Insects Athens was [insert superlatives here] beautiful. Thank you to everyone who participated in Eating Insects Athens, and to those of you that couldn’t make it but have been a part of my bug family still. I hope you enjoy this little blog post. If you don’t feel like reading, you can check out my recap video here: 

I’m incredibly proud of our community and how much we’ve grown since our inaugural conference in Detroit in 2016. I fell in love with the mission-driven members of this community, and with how inclusive and thoughtful they are whether in business or peer-to-peer relationships. The relationships that I’ve made in this community have felt less like business contacts and much more like true friends and family.

To the bug family: The work you are doing keeps sustainability, health, and mindfulness at the forefront. Thank you for opening my eyes to this world – I’ve never been more certain that this is the mission and these are the people that I want to dedicate my life to helping.

One of my guiding quotes has been, “Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success” (Clayton M. Christensen.) I’ve been fortunate enough to find a community that aligns my heart and mind around ideals of ‘success.’ The next few years will be a test for our little industry as we break down barriers, dissolve stigmas, and educate. I’m more motivated than ever to continue this journey with a grin plastered across my face.

Without further ado, I present the *unofficial* recap of Eating Insects Athens 2018:

Eating Insects Athens Day One Recap

Art Expo and Artists Market – On display throughout a part of the event space was an art gallery showcasing topical works by a wide variety of artists. Nearly 60 bug-themed works were displaced from local, national, and international artists.

Marianne Shockley (University of Georgia Department of Entomology) – Engaging audiences with edible insects: Outreach as an education tool – We learned about how collaborative outreach can lead to huge impacts, as demonstrated by the Bug Dog and beyond.

Aly Moore (Bugible) – Edible Bugs – Media and the Public Response – I spoke about how digital marketing, public relations, and media can be better leveraged to shape human acceptance of bugs as ingredients.

Justine Richard-Giroux – Evaluation of different residual biomasses for the feeding of black soldier fly larvae; an alternative source of protein and fat in animal feed​ – Great research presentation. Learned some new terminology and answers to questions like “What is the Gainsville diet?”

KEYNOTE – Jack Armstrong – Jack Armstrong of Armstrong’s Cricket Farm is the oldest established cricket grower in the US. For over 65 years, the Armstrong family has provided personal customer service and quality products with a live delivery guarantee. From a small beginning in Glennville, Georgia, to their expansion in operations to West Monroe, Louisiana, Armstrong’s now boasts two of the largest feeder insect farms in the nation. Having two farms keeps the breeds of live feeder insects pure, disease free, and always in stock. Today, Armstrong’s Cricket Farm meets the demands of bait stores, zoos, pet shops, and individuals with live crickets and worms for reptiles, birds, and fish. These live feeder insects are shipped direct – healthy and ready to be the next meal for fish, birds, and reptiles alike.

Armstrong brought up some encouraging statistics about the increase in demand for human grade crickets. Back in 1975, maybe 3% of his orders came in for insects other than animal feed. In three years, it was 8%… and continued to rise. He gave us insight into regulatory bodies, stating that the FDA seemed less interested in how they were growing their crickets and more in how they were being processed. The real in-depth inspections occurred by large customers.

Wendy Lu McGill (Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch) – Co-Branding for Insects as Food: A Case Study – She brought up the pros and cons of launching a consumer retail brand – the low margins, high failure rate, and more. She suggests developing a blended model, and shared her progress with Butterfly Pavilion in a co-branded product line.

Valerie Stull (MIGHTi / University of Wisconsin-Madison) – What’s Hopping: Impact of Edible Cricket Consumption on Gut Microbiota in Healthy Adults, a Double-blind, Randomized Crossover Trial – We heard a fascinating talk on the research that has been recently driving multiple headlines. Stull looked into how eating cricket powder impacts a healthy gut microbiome. We learned that fiber is digested by bacteria in gut (not the guy), providing benefits beyond nutrition that we see with prebiotic chitin. I made a note to myself to look through this study in full.

Florian Nock (JIMINI’S)- Eating insects in Western culture: A unique approach?​ –  Nock gave us a look at the path we might need to take if we want to see a world with frozen crickets in super markets. He pointed out some interesting trends in consumer psychology (early adopters are seeking novel experiences, but majority adopters are seeking solutions to a problem.) He ended on a note that would be repeated often throughout the conference: he would like to see more collaboration between companies.

Bob Fischer (Texas State University) – Ethics for Insect Eaters – As the title suggests, ethics are a hot topic in this industry. Eating bugs could be a more conscious alternative to other traditional livestock.

Tequila Ray Snorkle (Ovipost) – Farm Hacks: Off the shelf hacks for insect farming – In a presentation just as snazzy as her outfit, Tequila took us through farm hacks – aka everything she was allowed to share without compromising competitive advantages for Ovipost. “Everything is worth monitoring,” she explained. She took us through the evolution of industries, and pointed out that the bug industry needs more metaphorical spears. Most of the cost of cricket raising is in labor, not in the feed and other input. So with companies like Ovipost working on innovations – or spears – the industry is set to leap forward.

Brittny Jones (Texas A&M University) – Impact of Larval Competition on Life-History Traits of the Black Soldier Fly, Hermetia illucens (L.) (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) – We learned the results of interesting research on black soldier flies, an increasingly interesting focus of companies working on waste management and insects as feed for more traditional livestock.

Josh Galt – Ethical Considerations and Nutritional Benefits of Insects in a Plant-Based Diet – ENTOVEGAN – This talk stuck with me. All of the speakers deserve a gold star, but Galt’s talk gave me a lightbulb moment. A poignant, clarifying realignment of why we do what we do in the bug industry. He spoke of the “real nutritional benefits” of bugs, the importance of honesty in the bug industry, and the importance of keeping the mission of doing the least harm possible in mind. He has done work in frontier countries to see what the benefit really is of pushing edible insects. Yes, we can try to convince Western cultures to adopt a new cuisine, but the farms in Canada will need to consume more energy in the winter to combat snowy climates. There are already many cultures in climates with 365-cricket-rearing-suitability that could benefit dramatically from updated methods of growing and harvesting bugs. He left us with a poignant example of how introducing cricket farming to an 80 year old man in Thailand changed his life – gave him purpose, income, and a way to better the nutrition of those around him.

Justin Butner  (EntomoCentral) – Writing About Insect Agriculture – Justin Butner took us on a splendid tour of edible bugs and the impact linguistics can have on the industry. [insert list of bug names here] We discussed possible naming alternatives like micromeat. Then we looked at the importance of imagery – emphasizing the need to create food that is “all dressed up and wants you to eat it.” We have to keep in mind the difference between advertising and editorial (aka free) content, and how these feed back into our larger cultural reputation.

Anne Carlson (JIMINY’S) – Reducing my Carbon Pawprint – Here’s another talk that really opened my mind to a new product vertical with massive potential. The pet market is big, growing, and very emotional. When we’re pushing humans to consume more bug protein, we still have to consider the limitations of a single consumer product, as humans have an incredibly varied diet. Dogs, however, eat the same thing 80-90% percent of the time, meaning replacing their food with a lower-impact alternative can produce sizable results. Carlson noted that she is targetting audiences like the vegetarians that feel bad about giving their dogs beef-based foods and other socially conscious pet owners.

PANEL – Moving the industry forward – [Bill Broadbent, Kubo Dzamba, Gabe Mott, Ryan Yamka?] – We heard insightful stories from industry veterans. Dzamba shared that he thinks edible insects are underpriced from competition based on where we are in the industry timeline. We discussed things like the one bucket solution and marketing ideas like #micromeatmonday. Broadbent shared a thought that many share,  “I don’t care how long it [gaining acceptance of edible insects in the public marketplace] takes because I’m having a lot of fun.” Other notable points made include: crickets are a good point of differentiation in the pet food market; we can communicate better with degrees of radical transparency; we can do more to share more and keep each other safe in the industry by sharing best standards and best practices to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Amy Franklin (Farms for Orphans) – Edible insect farming: A strategy for providing sustainable nutrition and economic empowerment for orphanages in western Democratic Republic of Congo​ – Another lightbulb moment was provided by Dr. Amy Franklin when she discussed how the farming techniques we are perfecting can have a huge impact in regions that already accept bugs as food. Her company is providing small scale palm weevil larvae farms as income streams and nutrition sources in orphanages. Her focus is tackling food insecurity. Her talk addressed ecotourism, the need to develop vocational training programs, and grant exploration.

Ryan Goldin (Entomo Farms) – Stories from the Trenches:  Consumer Adoption and Market Evolution – Goldin began with a narrative about his experience showing Entomo Farms at trade shows. He’s noticed that while the foot traffic has decreased in recent years, the interest has been a lot higher, suggesting the novelty is wearing off in favor of real interest. He’s excited for continued research to focus on how we can gain credibility in the marketplace. Goldin shared the huge progress made by his team with Loblaws- Canada’s largest grocery chain – by securing a spot on shelves and in the sustainable protein display. Being a part of displays like this give consumers confidence that bug protein is not a novelty but a stable trend.

Aline Freitas Spindola (Texas A&M University) – Thermal Preference and Sperm Viability of Black Soldier Fly across Ages and Temperatures – Another great report on the results of a research project in an increasingly important space for waste management, feed, and, one day, food.

Sigbjørn Albertsen (Invertapro) – Invertapro, Insects for a circular economy – We learned a lot about the nordic insect economy. And about how Norway is the biggest producer of salmon, with its high-end aquaculture systems. Norway needs to have highly automated facilities as the minimum wage is $22/hour. They also have to think about waste differently, as it cannot end up in landfills. Referencing Tequila’s talk, Albertsen suggested the need for more ‘spears’ and more collaboration between countries and companies.

James Ricci (Ovipost) – Integrated Pest Management for Cricket Farms – We need to learn how to kill the right bugs. Ricci is here to show us how. Ricci’s talk was as full of super helpful information as it was a well-timed comedy. He took us through his experience learning how to isolate pests from the bugs we are raising for food, and what to do about it. From flies to spiders to rats to pigeons, we learned best practices to keep our little livestock clean and thriving.

Gabrielle Wimer (MealFlour) – MealFlour: Using mealworms as an environmentally sustainable source of protein to improve food security – The team making an impact in countries that already accept bugs as food sent in a video to share their progress and insights.

~That Evening~ 

The Buzz: An Evening of Insect Cuisine – At The State Botanical Garden of Georgia – eight tasting dishes for gastronomical pleasure.

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Eating Insects Athens Day Two Recap

Jeff Tomberlin (Texas A&M University) – Micronutrients and their role in mass production of the black soldier fly​ – Tomberlin has already been thanked numerous times throughout past presentations for his excellence in guidance and inspiration to the graduate student studies around entomology. Tomberlin himself led a brilliant discussion on the black soldier fly (BSF) and implications from findings in research geared at better understanding the role of micronutrients and diet in their mass production. BSF can play a huge role in sustainable waste management, converting food waste into high-quality feed for our chickens and fish, for example. 

Liz Koutsos (Enviroflight) – Insects as Feed for Animals: A Review of Current Knowledge of Composition and Feeding Applications – Our community is full of folks working on insects for food and feed. While my own work focuses mostly on the human food angle, insects for feed is already a much bigger and potentially more impactful industry that deserves attention. Research suggests that insect-based diets are not only more sustainable, but lead to better health outcomes as well for more traditional livestock.

Jonathan A. Cammack (Texas A&M University, Department of Entomology) – Diet nutrient and moisture content and black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens (L.), (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) feeding impact the structure and function of associated bacteria​ – Cammack provided additional research to contribute to the growing body of knowledge around black soldier fly (BSF) nutrient and feeding potential. 

KEYNOTE – Dr. Julie Lesnik – Julie Lesnik is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University. She was the organizer of the 2016 Eating Insects Detroit Conference. Her research focuses on the cultural and nutritional significance of insects in the human diet over the course of our evolution. This work incorporates research in paleoanthropology with studies on nutrition and feeding ecology for modern foraging societies as well as nonhuman primates. Her book Edible Insects and Human Evolution is available this summer from the University Press of Florida.  Long story short, she’s a badass. We learned a lot about enthnocentrisism, ‘othering’, and not to yuck someone’s yum. She shared fascinating stories of how humans have consumed insects throughout our evolutionary timeline, and pointed out some really interesting tidbits, like the historical role of gender in insect foraging.

Joseph Yoon (Brooklyn Bugs) – Culinary Applications in Entomophagy – Yoon opened with the story of the heart icon as a successful branding endeavor. He encouraged us to do the same with bugs. We eat with our eyes first. We can turn to luxury ingredients to attract folks to bugs. Even for the bugs that might not taste good… we just need to “unlock” the flavor. He made some great suggestions, including a former crowd-favorite: cricket caviar.

Bruce Wayne (University of Delaware) – The Evolution of Edible Insect Agriculture During The Implementation Of Digital Globalization Processes – Wayne studied applied nutrition. He brought up good questions about the applications of insects in longevity programs, preventative care, and in elderly homes. Food has an impact on an epigenetic level. How can we get bugs on the radar of bodies that support national school lunch programs? We need to look a the broader picture – at how bugs can impact food and nutritional security on the levels of sustainability directives for our growing population. We can be more involved with the processes to create local and state laws that streamline our food waste. We can rally around enforcing standards that redefine the industry and be more conscious of the aftermath of abundance.

Sam Glickstein (Biotrophics) – Missing Links: The State of Global Scarcity & Sustainability – Glickstein’s talk addressed the bigger picture of global scarcity and how environmentally conscious efforts can lead to better outcomes as we work with natural systems (rather than against.)

Kayla Hurd (University of Notre Dame) – A snack worth sharing: Chapulines as a major protein source in Oaxaca, Mexico – Hurd shared compelling personal stories and mouth-watering recipes for bug-based salsas.

KEYNOTE – Pat Crowley – Pat Crowley is the Founder and CEO of Chapul LLC., a company revolutionizing the food industry with award-winning cricket bars and breaking down cultural barriers by introducing edible insects into Western cuisine. From hand-making energy bars in a small kitchen, to a crowd-funded startup, then on to winning an investment from Mark Cuban on the hit TV show Shark Tank, he has created an international presence and ignited a revolution that is challenging the boundaries of food. Pat has been interviewed and quoted by CNN, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, and has spoken from TEDx, University, and on various international stages. – The man, the myth, the legend… Crowley walked us through his journey with Chapul. After hearing a food marketing talk and learning how much effort companies put into branding to make an impact during the “2.3 seconds they have to make an impression on consumers at an emotional level” he flipped a switch and moved towards rebranding his cricket protein bars. His focal point? Fearlessness. He stated the two most important qualities of a brand are innovation and authenticity. He joked about having the award for getting kicked out of the most stores, but noted that for this reason and more, resiliency is crucial. His background as a water scientist in the second most arid state has given him a strong ‘why.’ Crowley also gave some interesting insights into Chapul’s branding. Other notable points include: sustainability is too green-washed; the message, “We are all in this together” works; and we should be mindful of the sustainability of the packaging we are using as well.

PANEL – Kevin Bachhuber, Julie Lesnik, Wendy Lu McGill, Aly Moore – Ento Evolution – Managing Perceptions – This panel was a ton of fun. We had a chance to scratch the surface of what should become an industry-standard “Media 101” agreement or course. We shared stories from the field of how the public has responded to efforts to spread the word about bugs as ingredients. We discussed how our own talking points have changed over the years, and touched on topics like the importance of cultural sensitivity and monitoring press (with a focus on “Is all press good press?”)

C M (Tilly) Collins (Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London) – Opportunities and barriers: Variation in attitudes to, and acceptance of, entomophagy in men, women and children in the UK – With a manner of speaking that will keep anyone listening all day long, Collins took us on a journey through neophobia, the bravery of kids, and how we might apply this to marketing edible insects. Kids are less afraid of bugs and less concerned with flavor. Her entire presentation kept me furiously scribbling notes down on consumer perception and response.

David M Gracer (Community College of Rhode Island) – Stories in the background, and ways to reach the best future – Our bug father delivered a talk that was humorous and esoteric. Masterfully done. He started with a look at metacognition’s role in the change we are trying to affect. On the importance of narrative arcs of the progress of our species. He looked at biblical references to eating insect products and shared clips from his television past. 

Cheryl Preyer (Preyer Consulting, LLC) –  An Ento Hero’s Journey – Preyer took upon “the hero’s journey” – diving into poignant facets of our industry’s journey. She shared her innovative take on what to do about “the ick/yuck factor,” recommending that we replace it with “the flinch factor,” or, better yet, “the wow factor.” Pryer compared our reaction to the Facebook wow-reaction button, sharing how this can better steer our narrative away from the pervasive fear-based preconceptions many in western cultures have towards bugs.

Changqi Liu  (San Diego State University) – Edible insects as food in Oaxaca – Liu took us on a journey to a land where some insects are already consumed as food: Oaxaca. In a presentation that both explored the historical cultural impacts on this acceptance and modern recipes, she left us hungry for Chapulines.

John Guyton (Mississippi State University, Biochemisty, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology) – Introducing Youngsters during Bug Camp and Adults during the International Insect Rearing Workshop to Edible Insects – Guyton has a legacy of introducing youngsters to bugs in a fun and memorable way. He shared his stories from camp in managing perceptions and making folks comfortable with change. It was great to hear the progression through the years and was encouraging to those of us facing similar situations today.

Ryan Yamka (Luna Science and Nutrition, LLC) – Recipe for success: opportunities and challenges of introducing insects into pet food formulations – Yamka gave us an information-packed insiders’ view of the regulatory framework companies must work within to gain approval introducing insects into pet food formulations. Pet food stands to have a huge impact on sustainability, and, eventually, owner mindset. It is important we are well equipped to enter this space. Yamka provided a wealth of expert advice and tips to those that stand to differentiate themselves in this marketplace.

Mohammed Ashour (Aspire Food Group) –  Galvanizing our industry – why collaborating is more important than ever – Fresh from their recent acquisition of Exo, Aspire Food Group has always been an industry leader. Ashour gave a compelling talk about that explored everything from the importance of shared best practices to how groups like NACIA could play a critical role in all of our success. He urged us to avoid the  fear-based decision making that results from over zealous cricket farmers that jump into the market without proper research, possibly with products  that are not up to standards, and how this could be avoided. He touched on supply + demand challenges, ways we can increase transparency, the roles of an umbrella association, and more. Ashour noted, “Hopefully you wont have to go through this, but if you do, you don’t have to start from scratch,” when again encouraging us all to share more. Aspire will be publishing their patent on chitin extraction and SOPs on cricket farming to NACIA to encourage a future of collaboration. 

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Eating Insects Athens Day Three Recap 

Becky Griffin (UGA Extension) – Entomophagy in the School Garden – While I, unfortunately, missed this talk, Griffen explored an important topic. Entomophagy can be made accessible in simple ways, like through school gardens.

Trina Chiasson (Ovipost) – Quantifying Sustainability: Analyzing the Ecological Footprint of Entomophagy – Another talk that was high on my list that I sadly missed. Chiasson is brilliant and I heard the same of the talk that assessed the ecological impacts of entomophagy. The industry as a whole touts sustainability as one of the top reasons to shift from traditional livestock to micromeats. We often list statistics on water usage, greenhouse gas emission, land required, and feed consumed to produce bugs versus traditional livestock. But what is the real impact?

Kevin Bachhuber (Bachhuber Consulting Group) – Crickets Are Stupid, and Will Drown Themselves If Possible: A Catalog of Errors – If the title didn’t clue you in, this talk was a hoot. Bachhuber shared the progress he has witnessed firsthand in our expanding industry. He recalled that his first regulation approval took 19 months, and soon after this time was down to 9 weeks. He runs Big Cricket Solutions – a consultancy dedicated to advancing industry behaviors and practices that lead to progress and competitive outcomes. Bachhuber shared insights on everything from bulk purchases to the importance of documentation to the need for increased veterinarian entomology training so that we might more quickly diagnose problems. He dove into the importance of small changes like labels stating ‘produced for.’ He will be contributing some of his databases to NACIA as well.

Kubo Dzamba (Third Millennium Farming) – Introducing the Chirpbox: a modular cricket farm that is enabling a new food economy – Dzamba opened with an apology for his raspy voice, as he was learning how to ‘network’ the previous evening (well said, well said.) He proceeds to dive into the work he’s doing with Chirpbox to innovate in the field of modular cricket farming. Dzamba touched on the importance of branding elements like organic, ethical, sustainable, healthy, authenticity, and trust. He wants to help small farmers keep promises through network insurance advantages. Much of his work addresses the question, “How can a non-career cricket farmer scale operations from around 3,000 to 1.5 million crickets per month without economies of scale. He touched on decreased density production, financing, the use of case studies, and his collaboration with Kevin Bachhuber.


Award Winners – The Gene DeFoliart Excellence in Entomophagy Research and Leadership Award – Dr. Florence V. Dunkel – Dr. Florence V. Dunkel completed her Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison under the direction of Dr. Gene DeFoliart. she also has many honors for her Excellent Teaching and Outstanding Research Accomplishments in Management of Grain Quality and Security in World Markets. Dr. Dunkel also received the Charles Lindbergh Grant Award in Anthropology. Her research and teaching are tied to specific communities-of-focus with whom she has collaborated for the several decades, MT Native American communities, MT farmers, Malian subsistence farming villages. She has directed inter- and trans-disciplinary projects in which she collaborated with subsistence farmers (China, Rwanda, Morocco, Mali) in a “farmer first,” participatory process. Dr. Dunkel has been an advocate for entomophagy hosting an annual Bug Buffet at Montana State University for over 30 years and incorporating edible insects into the Entomological Society of America at public events and as formal symposia for the International Congress of Entomology.

Award Winners – The Foundation Award in Insects as Food and Feed Research – Dr. Shepphard. Jeff Tomberlin presented this award in an emotional and touching introduction. Dr. Shepphard has a history of appreciating the natural world, keeping an eye on sustainability, fostering exploration and a curiosity for the sciences, and excellence in mentoring students to pursue studies, especially in entomology-related fields.

[note: Micro Livestock International / Angka Changrit Kampuchea is listed next in the program, but I might have missed this]

Andrea M. Liceaga (Purdue University) – Approaches for utilizing cricket protein for human consumption: Effect of enzymatic hydrolysis on protein quality and functionality​ – Food science is cool. Food science related to bugs is cooler. Liceaga presented a wonderful research study assessing the role of cricket protein in products made for human consumption. She provided some interesting narratives around consumer acceptance: asked if they would eat cricket protein, many responders said no. But asked if they would eat a hamburger containing cricket protein, the results shot up in the affirmative. The rest of her discussion dove into functional properties of methods in food science applied to cricket protein. 

Shakara Maggitt – Black soldier flies as a potential feed source for ruminants – Who knew that rumination could be so cool? Magggitt discussed black soldier fly (BSF) as feed for cows. It’s exciting to see all the progress we are making towards the larger adoption of this sustainable feed source.

Lou Sorkin (American Museum of Natural History) – More on Insect Allergy but not from Bites and Stings  – In the final talk of the day, Sorkin discussed insect allergies that we should be mindful of in the field. The most well known, perhaps, is the enzyme similarities in shrimp and cricket exoskeletons.

Summary of Eating Insects Athens 2018

I’m so excited for the increasing amount of events around this industry. Keep your eyes out for the next big conference in 2020. Announcements about the location and the exact date will be coming before you know it.


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