Bug love: Alumna Aly Moore is getting more people to eat insects
Follow Aly Moore’s Instagram account for Bugible, and if you’re like most people, you’ll be both fascinated and a little queasy. The images show artfully arranged dishes with bugs as the centerpiece — a scorpion atop a round of goat cheese and baked beets; chipotle grasshoppers strewn across edible nasturtium leaves served with yellow sub daisies.
Even amid the current obsession with local, farm-raised, specialty ingredients, eating insects is still considered strange in the U.S. Yet, for Moore, celebrating bug cuisine is not about cashing in on a novelty. Her goal, she says, is much bigger — to make edible insects mainstream, one bug and wine pairing at a time.
“The bug thing has always been my hobby,” says Moore ’14 B.A., a serial entrepreneur who cofounded her first startup, Spylight, a platform that lets people buy clothes and products from TV shows, while she was an undergraduate at Yale. At the time, she’d begun pursuing a master’s in public health and was drawn to study food systems and food policy.
The more she researched, she says, the more she saw how eating bugs offered a solution to any number of environmental ills. Bug farming required significantly less land and water and produced significantly less carbon and methane than raising animals. Insects also offered a ready protein source and could serve as a front-line solution for coming food shortages, says Moore — if Westerners could change their perception, that is.
That’s where her blog Bugible, and related site, EatBugsEvents comes in. “Humans have been eating bugs for centuries,” Moore says, noting that many global cuisines feature insects and each cuisine typically has one or two standard insect dishes. In China, some bars serve bowls of roasted crickets instead of peanuts; in Mexico, people order grasshoppers fried with chiles and lime; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, caterpillars are a dietary staple.
Moore points to the 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which found that insects could play an important role in helping to provide future, sustainable sustenance. The world population is expected to balloon to 9 billion people by 2050 — and food production will have to double to provide for their needs. The report points out that insects are better nutritionally than chicken, beef, and even fish — rich in protein and high in good fats, calcium, iron and zinc. Insect farming also requires no land-clearing, and bugs emit much less greenhouse gases and need much less food than their animal counterparts. Crickets, for example, require 12 times less feed than cattle.
And, Moore says, once people overcome their squeamishness, bugs are actually tasty, with unique flavor profiles. There are the nutty, mushroom-y bugs, like mealworms and crickets. There are the bacon-tasting bugs, such as grubs. And there are the seafood-esque bugs like scorpions, water bugs, and locusts. In all, there are some 1,900 known edible insects.
To get people to give bugs a try, Moore began by blogging, but soon realized she was “preaching to the choir.”
“I started hosting bug dinners and bug and wine pairings,” she says, “and bringing broader awareness about the market.” Moore says she has now hosted hundreds of these events — including some at Yale. While people may initially attend out of sheer curiosity and the chance for a cool Instagram pic, she says many are won over. “I love seeing the lightbulb go on,” Moore says. “I’m making people comfortable with change. By the end, they are excited about it.”
“Aly was a valuable member of the InnovateHealth Yale team when she was a student at Yale College,” says Martin Klein, senior advisor to the dean of the Yale School of Public Health and the founder and director of InnovateHealth Yale. “It’s no surprise that she has taken her enthusiasm, generous spirit, and entrepreneurial instincts and applied them to this important venture.”
Her plan for normalizing bug eating includes reaching out to chefs and developing wellness programs and educational kits that can be integrated into businesses and communities. Beyond whole roasted insects, there are products like cricket flour and cricket chips. In addition to providing marketing and branding support for new startups in the field, Moore is planning to focus efforts on bringing investor attention to the market. She’s preparing for a future where bugs are a regular menu feature.
“Bugs are just another ingredient,” Moore says.