There are more than 1.3 million farms in the U.S. raising livestock. The number raising insects? Three. Monica Martinez, founder of Don Bugito in Oakland, California, is one of them. Growing up in Mexico, a country home to 500 edible insects, she was used to bugs serving as a main source of protein. In 2009, she set out to change the American mindset toward eating insects. “I quickly realized there was no culture of eating insects here,” Martinez says. “But then I hosted a dinner in New York City and saw that people were ready.”
Today, Martinez farms crickets and mealworms in greenhouses, and then approaches them as she would nuts or seeds, toasting them until crunchy and tossing with cayenne pepper, lime juice, and sea salt or melted sugar and coconut. For our October Spooktacular Series, we fold her toffee-brittle mealworms and chocolate-covered crickets into our matcha Creepy Crawly Critters ice cream.
We spoke with Martinez about why she believes edible insects are the future.
1. WHAT MAKES EATING INSECTS SO GREAT?
“They’re very sustainable; you can farm thousands and thousands in a small urban space. You get the same amount of protein from them as beef—all their energy turns into protein. And they don’t require gallons and gallons of water.”
2. WHAT OTHER BENEFITS DO EATING INSECTS HAVE?
“In addition to being a great source of protein, they’re also rich in omega-3s and fiber.”
3. WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE FARMING INSECTS?
“Crickets are really hard to farm. They jump all over, they get aggressive when they’re too crowded, and their food has to be special. They’re very sensitive—if one gets sick it can wipe out the entire colony. Mealworms are easier; they like to be on top of one another and actually create their own antibiotic. But they’re actually beetles, not worms, and can grow up to three inches long, so it’s hard for me to pick them up.”
4. IF SOMEONE HASN’T EATEN INSECTS BEFORE, WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?
“Crickets are much more culturally accepted than mealworms, probably because of our association with Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio. Mealworms elicit different reactions because people think they’re in dirt. People typically think they’re going to be soft and saggy and juicy—which isn’t true! They’re toasty and crunchy.”
5. HOW MANY DIFFERENT INSECTS HAVE YOU EATEN IN YOUR LIFE?
6. HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THE FLAVOR OF INSECTS?
“I compare them to nuts and seeds. They have an earthy, nutty flavor. Mealworms taste just like pecans or walnuts; crickets taste like pepitas.”
7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE INSECT TO EAT?
“Mealworms—they’re so rich in flavor. My 5-year-old daughter loves them. We eat them as cereal with oat milk, on top of ice cream, or mixed into scrambled eggs.”