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bugs Photos by Jamie S. Frees
The tortillas for the cricket tacos were made the old-fashioned way, through the process of nixtamal.

Bugs on the menu at Washington College

Dining services at Washington College hosts educational event, another adventure in bug-to-table eating.

Bugs on the menu is a topic that’s been crawling into the spotlight on college campuses lately.

With more and more people waking up to the potential problem with feeding the increasing population of the planet sustainably, expect to see more collaborations between college foodservice and education departments and scenes like this one: an anthropology professor preparing made-to-order cricket tacos for a crowd. In this case, it was department chair Dr. Bill Schindler during the recent bug-to-table event at Washington College (WC) in Chestertown, Md.

The event, The New Face of Farm to Table: Insects on the Menu, consisted of dinner and a movie at the main dining commons, hosted by WC dining services. The movie was actually two documentaries about bugs as food, and dinner was cricket tacos. And Schindler wasn’t just throwing crickets onto a tortilla. Thanks to a little professional culinary training and a lot of research into prehistoric food procurement, processing and storage technologies, he’s a pretty good cook.

“The cricket taco recipe was based on a traditional Oaxacan taco, which often includes insects,” Schindler says. “The crickets were roasted and tossed in some oil and housemade taco seasoning.” 

Crickets can be purchased from farms like Entomo Farms, a Canadian insect farm and producer of snacks, garnishes, flours and powders. Co-founder Jarrod Goldin was also at the event, and gave a talk about the many uses of insects.

A dining student helps plate the cricket tacos.

For the cricket tacos, Schindler used about 200 pounds of crickets for about 150 tacos. And he showed off his culinary skills by shying away from store-bought tortillas, or even starting with masa, but making them from scratch the ancient way.

“To make the tortilla shell, we used a very traditional (and nutritious) technique called nixtamalization,” he says.

The process for nixtamalization consists of boiling dried maize kernels for about half an hour in a combination of water and pickling lime to create a basic solution, then soaking them for 24 hours. Then, the kernels are rinsed (at this stage the kernels are called nixtamal) and ground into masa dough used to make tortillas.

This created a nice carrying case for the crickets, along with an heirloom Bulgarian yogurt cultured-from-scratch crème fraiche sauce and fixin’s to choose from: jalapenos, onions and tomatoes. All these components helped create an authentic roadside Oaxacan experience, a situation where it’s not uncommon to find bugs on the menu. 

Don Stanwick, director of dining, who worked with the anthropology department for a couple of months planning the event, says he and the dining team wanted students to take this seriously, not just see it as a novelty or gross-out event. 

“There was definitely some ‘I dare you to eat it’ going on, but there were a lot of staff, students and faculty who came wanting to try it and support Dr. Schindler,” Stanwick says. “The atmosphere was energetic and conversation was encouraged about crickets as a sustainable food source.”

“We worked very hard to steer away from the ‘dare’ type situation to get the diners to think about this as real food, which it certainly is,” Schindler adds.

Also on the menu were apricot-ginger-cricket scones, which made use of cricket flour, a good gateway ingredient for embracing crickets. Students created the recipe, and the dining services team took it from there.

“The scones were light and soft with a nice fruit taste,” Stanwick says. The scones were made with the cricket flour along with sugar, nutmeg, butter, dried apricots and crystallized ginger.

The dining team is looking forward to an ongoing partnership with Schindler, who has just become the first director of the Eastern Shore Food Lab, one of the college’s three Signature Centers, cultural and educational hubs that are focused on hands-on learning. The lab will focus on local farms, and both Stanwick and Schindler see potential for more sustainable food educational events in the future.

School mascots George and Martha Washington tried the cricket tacos.

The message Schindler hopes he can continue to share?

“It is all about education, connection and empowerment,” Schindler says. “Modern Americans, and Westerners in general, have been continuously distanced from their food for some time and are no longer able to see the direct impact and also the power of their food choices.”

Right: School mascots George and Martha Washington tried the cricket tacos.

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