“I wanted to be edgy,” says Anna. “I used whole crickets. I wanted to have a cricket actually crawling out of the empanada.
“But now – oh – it’s hard to eat these and see them at the same time.”
Two years ago, Rosana Yau, a graduate student in design at the California College for the Arts, read a UN Report called Livestock’s Long Shadow. It reported that the principal producer of greenhouse gases was not burning coal or using gasoline-powered vehicles to move thing from one place to another, but the simple act of raising other mammals, andthen eating them.
The UN produced that report, presumably, with the hope that it would persuade people to eat less meat. Yau came to another conclusion. People, she decided, needed to eat different meat. Cultures that eat insects – and there are a lot of them – gain a significant nutritional benefit by doing so. Three crickets, and you’ve met your daily requirement for iron intake. As livestock, crickets are twice as efficient at taking in food and turning it into more cricket than the pig, and six times more efficient than the cow.
And so this Sunday lunch, held in a beautiful Mission District apartment, is part of an extended series of social experiments by Yau in how to brand insects as classy and ecologically sophisticated, and introduce them to a wider audience. The new grass-fed beef – sort of kind. Except that crickets are more partial to cat food and soggy lettuce.
“Bug,” says Yau, pointing to the handmade truffled mealworm pasta (with squash). Another guest has arrived, and every one has asked Yau to walk them through the buffet table taxonomy. The guest points at the empanadas. “Also bug,” Yau says, firmly. The guest points hopefully to the rounds of cheese, neatly arranged around a sliced baguette. “No bug,” says Yau. They breathe a sigh of relief.
“I do not want to eat any of these cricket heads,” says Michael, staring down into his salad. It’s made of brussel sprouts sauteed in butter and sprinkled with capers. It is disconcerting. The cricket heads look kind of like the capers, but not quite. For example: the capers don’t have cheerful-looking antennae.
“It’s not a test of the wills,” someone says.
“David thinks it is,” says Anna. “That’s why he won.” She gestures over to a man slumped contentedly in his seat, hands over belly, fork tines resting on an empty plate.
Inside the kitchen, Melissa, another friend of Yau’s, sautees leftover mealworms into a crispy snack for the guests. The taste is somewhat like chitinous popcorn. Not many diners are eating them, but the few that partake do so with gusto. Yau normally toasts mealworms, grinds them, and adds them to flour. They appear on the menu tonight in the handmade truffled pasta (with squash) and in the empanada dough.
This is, Melissa reports, her most disconcerting cooking experience since she bought an octopus at Sun Fat Fish and cooked it for a sea-themed birthday party. “It was eerie,” she says. “It had such a sad little face. I put it in a soup with escarole and lemon rind. When you do that it releases all of the seawater in its body and makes its own brine. The soup turns purple and very fatty.”
“Was it delicious?” an inquiring reporter asked.
“More delicious than crickets?”
There is no hesitation. “Hell yes.”
One of the guests drifts in the direction of the dessert that has just appeared in the dining room. “Is that a bug and strawberry cheesecake?” they ask, jokingly.
“It actually is,” says Yau. “Mealworm crust. But the rest of it is vegan.”
“When Rosana first asked me to help her throw this dinner, the first thing I thought was “Ew,” says Anna. “But then I thought, “How can I not do this. This is so interesting.”
She looks over at Michael tenderly, takes two sauteed mealworms off the plate at the center of the table, and hands him one. Michael takes it. Examines it.
“Jesus, Anna,” he says, shaking his head. When people are not throwing insect parties at his house, Michael is a vegetarian.
The two bump their fried worms together like toasting wineglasses, and down them in one gulp.