There's no shortage of bugs in this city, but New Yorkers often scoff at the thought of eating the creatures that have moved into their kitchens and bathrooms. Still, insects are delicacies in plenty of cultures worldwide, and entomophagy (i.e. consuming bugs) enthusiasts are hoping negative perceptions about the practice will change next month, when Brooklyn plays host to what is reportedly the city's first festival dedicated to bug-eating.
From September 1st to 3rd, three venues in Greenpoint and Williamsburg will transform into Timon & Pumbaa's bug-eating paradise from The Lion King as part of the Brooklyn Bugs Festival, complete with insectivore-friendly vendor markets, a VIP Bug Banquet, cocktail receptions, and speakers and panels discussing the benefits of entomophagy.
The festival, which boasts the Museum of Food and Drink as its cultural partner, is the brainchild of Chef Joseph Yoon, who hosted a gourmet edible insect dinner earlier this year. Yoon hopes Brooklyn Bugs will inspire New Yorkers to think about the environmental benefits of eating bugs, as well as to de-stigmatize the act as a whole.
"Especially in an urban environment, we think of insects as things that are crawling around in our apartments. We don't really see them as a plated food," Yoon told Gothamist. "Part of my mission is to change that perception by not serving insects in their full state, Fear Factor-version, like, 'Here, I dare you to eat this.'" Instead, Yoon wants members of the chef community to learn to cook with insects and plate them so they look appetizing, just like we do with livestock. "When we eat a chicken, for example, most of the time the chicken's cooked, carved and plated, and we're not seeing chicken feet and heads when we're eating them," he said.
Lobster Medallion with roasted wax worms (courtesy of Dinner Echo)
Over two billion people regularly eat insects, and the United Nations actually recommends humans swap meat out for insects to protect the planet's limited resources. Livestock farming produces a massive amount of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and environmentalists say giving up red meat would reduce our carbon footprint more than giving up cars. "It only takes a fraction of the water to farm both crickets and mealworms than it does for farming cows and pigs and livestock," Yoon said. "The carbon imprint is also very fractional. There are a lot benefits [to eating insects]. On a scaling viewpoint, we can scale these insects to a point where it's truly something that can be done without continuing to cause as much of a carbon imprint as we're doing right now to feed everyone with traditional livestock."
Environmental impact aside, Yoon wants to kill the stigma against eating insects, which he thinks is thanks to the United States' colonial roots. "When the Americas were being colonized by Europeans, Europeans were stigmatizing the 'savages,' who were people who eat bugs," he said. "And while that was hundreds of years ago, I think that idea and stigma still is pervasive, so people traditionally in America don't eat insects. The indigenous people of America did eat insects, but the immigrants and people who came over didn't, and that took hold."
Courtesy Dinner Echo
Yoon says the Brooklyn Bugs festival is part of a holistic approach to familiarize Americans with insects. "One thing I find that is going to be very important in changing people's perceptions on entomophagy... is taking an all-out approach, where it's not just bug enthusiasts who are going to do this, it's not just chefs, but it's educators, it's the community, it's celebrities like Angelina Jolie, who fed her kids insects," Yoon said. "That's why we have artists involved with the festival, we have educators, we have people working in the business for the community. It really needs to come from a lot of different angles, so it's not just this one-sided novelty but something that people see more and more of."
He added, "I think that familiarity will help really bring about more acceptance."
Venues include Kinfolk 94 in Williamsburg, t.b.d. Brooklyn in Greenpoint, and the Brooklyn Kitchen, also in Williamsburg. Tickets vary in price, depending on tier; you can purchase them online.