A Food Anthropologist at the John Dewey Kitchen Institute

Rachel Black
President, Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Connecticut College

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the John Dewey Kitchen Institute at the University of Vermont. The goal of this three-day workshop was to “emphasize experiential education, of course in teaching about food but also as an important pedagogical approach for teaching any subject.” As a long-time believer and practitioner of hands-on learning, I was eager to hone skills and think more about how to create opportunities for experiential learning in my anthropology of food classes.

Getting our senses warmed up straight away, we passed around, smelled and identified plates of herbs and spices. The instructors then asked the 12 participants to think of a life experience we could relate to a specific herb or spice. These flavorful narratives were a great way to get to know each other. At this point, we also began to discuss John Dewey’s philosophy of education, which would provide the underpinnings for our activities and reflections over the next few days. Instructors Lisa Heldke and Cynthia Belliveau gave the class a list of 12 Deweyan tenets. These ranged from “Education is experience” to “Enquiry is value-laden”. The tenets were an attempt to answer the questions: “What does it mean to learn, and how should that understanding inform our teaching and learning in the food studies classroom?” and “What is the world like, how does inquiry work, and how should these inform our teaching/learning?”

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Using all our senses to think about lunch at the Dewey Kitchen Institute.

After a brief kitchen orientation, we engaged in our first hands-on activity–knife skills. We were instructed how to chop onions and carrots and then given knives, cutting boards and ingredients. What became quickly apparent was the amount of focus the activity took, whether you were a professional chef or someone who eats out for most meals. This is when I began to understand that the goal here was not learning to cook but rather cooking to learn. It was the reflection on the embodiment of skill and the presence of the mind in the body that resonated with me in this first lab. This activity was focused on the fifth tenet “play”: “Far from being trivial, play is “interested absorption in activity for the sake of activity itself.”

A diagram of mise en place.

A diagram of mise en place.

The next day we discussed the concept of mise en place and how this type of kitchen organization task might be used to get students to think about planning and organization in new ways. As we drew out our mise en place, I began to think about the spatial relationships between sensory experiences. That was a new dimension for me. I never really gave much thought to where I put my ingredients and why. After some reflection, we  began to prepare lunch. This was an activity that not only fed us but taught us to think about divisions of labor and timing in the kitchen. This activity could be seen as an exercise in “education as a practice of democracy”. Having to organize ourselves and work together put this tenet in to action. I began to think about all the applications for such skills beyond the kitchen.

We did a number of tastings in the course, from the herbs on the first day to local craft beers on the last day. We were not provided with tasting sheets but we did discuss the different ways in which we might structure tastings in order to achieve specific learning outcomes. Here we explored the tenet “theory is practice” and how “when theory and practice operate together effectively, learners act reflectively and inquiringly, with a sense of purpose and for the sake of learning.”

On the last day, we were given a market basket and asked to cook lunch in teams. We were told that our dish had to embody one of the Dewey tenets. This was a challenging culinary and organizational task. My partner and I focused on “chance and change.” Although we ultimately produced some tasty poached eggs on toast with a romesco sauce, we felt that the experience was mediated by this tenet: we did not know what we would get for ingredients, what would happen in the cooking process, and we felt the need to adapt to the unexpected.

As an anthropologist, I kept thinking about the ways I could introduce cultural diversity in to these exercises. While Dewey’s philosophy is second nature to most of us who do fieldwork, this workshop was an opportunity to bring the worlds of food studies and anthropology together. As I prepare my courses for the fall semester, I will be thinking of ways to bring experiential learning scenarios in to my anthropology of food courses.

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Cooking to learn.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, June 10 Edition

Hello FoodAnthro readers. If you have articles you’d like to share in future round-ups, please send the link and a brief description to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu. Thanks to the readers who provided the content for this week!

We are in the month of Ramadan–which began June 6th this year–meaning the internet abounds with articles documenting, debating, and explaining the month of fasting. Some resources food anthropologists may want to be aware of include the #RamadanDiaries hashtag on Twitter and accompanying blog series over at Savage Minds.

Fusion featured tips from Muslim food bloggers on surviving and enjoying Ramadan fasting, Vox offered some basics in the form of 9 Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask about the holy month, and The Atlantic wrote about how Muslims in Nordic countries handle sunrise-to-sunset fasting when the sun never sets: How to Fast for Ramadan in the Arctic.

From the end of May, Anthony Bourdain shared a snapshot of sharing a meal with President Obama in Hanoi: Six True Things About Dinner with Obama

Gastropod came back recently with an episode dedicated to one of humanity’s long-standing hobbies: beer. They take listeners from pre-industrial brewing to contemporary trends in Everything Old is Brew Again

NPR covered the heated and intractable debates in New Jersey over what to call the state’s signature pork product which, as the reader who submitted the article commented, “sounds like Spam or baloney”: New Jerseyans Chew Over What To Call Their Favorite Pork Product

Ancient rice and beans allow archaeologists to trace links between Madagascar and ancient Indonesia, as reported in the Washington Post (Signs of Madagascar’s first settlers discovered — and they came from 3,000 miles away). Or, if you prefer, the full report is here (Ancient Crops Provide First Archaeological Signature of the Westward Austronesian Expansion)

And finally, from the Washington Post, a story of about how coffee is displacing tea in England: The Slow Death of the Most British Thing There Is

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Christine Wilson Award, July 1 Deadline!

REMINDER!

Christine Wilson Award

This is an exciting award for outstanding student research examining topics in nutrition, food studies and anthropology. Exemplary graduate and undergraduate papers are accepted.

Guidelines for Submission of Your Entry:

  • Paper must present original, empirical research (literature reviews not eligible) undertaken in whole or in part by the author.
  • Primary focus must be on anthropological approach to food and/or nutrition.
  • Author (or first author for co-authored papers) must be currently enrolled as a student (undergraduate or graduate), or enrolled during the past academic year
  • Papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced, and follow American Anthropological Association (AAA) style guidelines)

Winners of the graduate and undergraduate awards receive a cash prize + a year’s membership in SAFN.

DEADLINE: JULY 1, 2016 [NOTE NEW AND EARLIER DEADLINE]

Submit your paper to Amy Trubek via email at atrubek@uvm.edu

 

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Roundtable Report: “Globalization of Asian Cuisines”

To celebrate the publication of “Globalization of Asian Cuisines: Transnational Networks and Culinary Contact Zones,” three of the edited volume’s authors—Stephanie Assmann, James Farrer, and David Wank—gathered for a roundtable discussion on June 2 at Sophia University, Tokyo. While the book contains chapters that examine different Asian cuisines in different contexts—Sidney Cheung writes about crayfish in China, Krishnendu Ray about “Indian ocean cuisine,” and Keiichi Kawaguchi about Japanese food in Italy, for example—for this roundtable Wank, Farrer, and Assmann chose to talk about globalization and Japanese cuisine, offering insights based on their research in China, the US, and Japan. They observed that the globalization of Japanese cuisine is being led primarily by non-Japanese actors, with the Japanese state trying to shape the process of diffusion.

IMG_5312.jpgChuanfei Wang, who conducts research on Chinese and Japanese wine cultures, introduces the roundtable participants. From left to right: discussant Christian Hess, chair Chuanfei Wang, James Farrer, David Wank, Stephanie Assmann.

James Farrer discussed the globalization of the Japanese culinary field via a case study of Japanese food in Shanghai, where the number of Japanese restaurants surpasses the number of French and Italian restaurants. Interestingly, in Shanghai, the authenticity of Japanese cuisine is important and it is bloggers and Chinese individuals who have tremendous influence in determining what is deemed authentic Japanese cuisine. Shanghai’s chefs and entrepreneurs show great creativity in localizing Japanese cuisine. Farrer gave the memorable example of Anthologia (地球美食劇場 chikyu bishoku gekijo in Japanese), a restaurant-theater in which the entire menu is in Chinese and the dramatically costumed and made-up chef performs not just cuisine but also ikebana (flower arrangement), music, dance, and swordplay in front of eaters. This restaurant has been such a success that a second such restaurant is planned to open in Nagasaki to accommodate demand from Chinese tourists there! In response to a question from discussant Christian Hess about periodization and change in contact zones, Farrer explained that in the late 19th century quite a few Japanese restaurants existed in California and in China but they didn’t last and didn’t create a Japanese food boom. While it might seem odd that Japanese food would enjoy such popularity in China given the political enmity between the two countries, the Chinese divorce politics from cuisine to a great extent. Even though Japanese restaurants were destroyed in protests, for example, the Japanese food scene in China recovered very quickly afterward.

IMG_5316An example of Shanghai’s booming Japanese restaurant culture from Farrer’s presentation.

David Wank’s presentation focused on the role Fujianese chefs and restaurateurs have played in popularizing Japanese cuisine along the East coast of the United States, a phenomenon he refers to as an “ethnic entrepreneurial niche.” He noted the presence of elements of deterritorialization and localization, with sushi now a regular feature of people’s foodscapes even in rural areas without a sizable Japanese or Asian population, and the development of the California roll, inside-outside roll, New York roll (with pastrami), Philly roll (cream cheese), and in Indonesia the gado gado roll. When asked to elaborate upon Fujian innovation in Japanese cuisine as related to localization, Wank gave the example of sauces; there are 5 basic sauces chefs use in Fujian-run Japanese restaurants, but he talked to one chef whose culinary arsenal includes 50 different sauces. This process of innovation within the current Japanese food boom continues—with ramen and izakaya (Japanese gastropubs) among the latest trends.

In her talk, Stephanie Assmann switched the focus to government actors in Japan, analyzing efforts to promote a specific concept of Japanese cuisine domestically and abroad. Through the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, a revived shokuiku (food education) campaign in schools, and projects encouraging Japanese consumers to purchase Japanese agricultural and food products for health reasons as well as to boost the national self-sufficiency rate for food. She noted a rhetoric of crisis operating in this discourse and perceives it to be a feature of the contemporary neoliberal state confronting globalization in line with national interests.

The roundtable touched upon key themes from the book—the role states play in determining what counts as national cuisines, debates around authenticity, processes of diffusion and change—and concepts such as “culinary fields,” “culinary contact zones,” “culinary infrastructure,” and “culinary capital.” The presentations and the enthused question and answer session that followed makes the edited volume seem well worth checking out.

 

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Review: Teaching Food and Culture

Teaching Food and Culture. Edited by Candice Lowe Swift and Richard Wilk. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2015. 209 pp. US$39.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-62958-127-9.

Review by Chelsea Wentworth, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, High Point University

In Teaching Food and Culture Swift and Wilk present a compilation of papers that use food “to transform research into pedagogy,” arguing that food is a productive medium to Teaching Food Big Coverengage students in the core themes and topics of anthropology. One of the strengths of this volume is the editors’ commitment to all four subfields of the discipline; however, every author demonstrates a commitment to a holistic approach to teaching and research that is reflective of the trans-disciplinary nature of the study of food. Several authors specifically mention that assignments can be adapted to courses in a range of disciplines including gender studies, communications, public health, religion, economics, and history, giving the volume a broad readership. After presenting an overview of the chapters and the goals of the book in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 is an interview with the late and notable food scholar Sydney Mintz. The interview took place via email correspondence and is Mintz’ thorough responses to three questions posed by the editors of the volume.

Section II of the book, Nutrition and Health, begins with a chapter on “Teaching Obesity: Stigma, Structure, and Self.” The authors of Chapter 3 describe the ways they use the topic of obesity to address key concepts in their upper and lower division undergraduate courses on anthropology and global health including poverty, discrimination, and responsibility. While they describe the sensitive nature of teaching obesity and problems that can arise in having students research and debate this topic, more concrete examples of how to avert these problems in the classroom would be beneficial. In Chapter 4, Sept describes how she structures her upper division archaeology course, Prehistoric Diet and Nutrition. Blending biological anthropology and archaeology she links studies of genetic change and the development of taste, with popular culture trends in food such as the paleo-diet. She details a related in-class scenario-building exercise that prepares students for debates on hunting and scavenging. After providing a brief history of the development of nutritional anthropology and the biocultural approach to food in Chapter 5, Wiley outlines the history and social life of milk. A detailed semester-long assignment presented in the appendix guides students through their own single-food project, yet the body of the chapter itself could be strengthened by more classroom examples.

The three chapters of Section III: Food Ethics and the Public offer the most pedagogical insight with discussion of activities and student’s responses to these approaches. First Benson (Chapter 6) describes three different assignments he has used to emphasize the role of food in the study of consumption, explaining how they “…[have] students look inside themselves at their own issues of dependency and habituation as well as upward at the powerful institutions that make the myths and realties of consumption” (111). This balance is carefully analyzed in several other chapters including Chapters 7, 8, and 12 where the notion of linking research and praxis, and demonstrating how the personal is political are emphasized. In Chapter 7 Counihan describes her research and teaching that encourages her students to reexamine the places where food is produced, purchased, and consumed. Using Lancaster’s historic farmers market, she provides students with a central research question, “Does Central Market promote a just and community-building system of food production and consumption?” This guides students through ethnographic research on the intersections of food, gender, class, race, power, economics, and politics. Service learning courses that address these same themes are the focus of Chrzan in Chapter 8. By offering readers a history of her service learning courses, she describes her successes and failures, allowing readers to avoid these pitfalls in their own courses. The active ethnographic requirements of the assignments in these chapters illustrate how students learn to apply anthropology beyond academe in ways that also promotes food justice and democracy.

Finally, the chapters in Section IV: Food, Identity, and Consumer Society discuss identity creation and how food and eating can illustrate “otherness”. Sutton and Beriss (Chapter 9) explain how place, identity, and community can be analyzed through an exploration of restaurants. However it seems that Chapter 9 would be better suited to the third section of the volume. Chapters 10 and 11 accentuate the role of language in the study of food. Stross (Chapter 10) presents a narrative of his syllabus, and highlights several innovative in-class activities. In Chapter 11, O’Connor explains how she uses food to teach semiotics with an emphasis on helping students understand the relationship between theory and method.  In the final chapter, Van Esterick reviews her decades of research and teaching on food, discussing how her research informed her teaching, which in turn informed new research. She writes poignantly about the emotional reactions experienced by both scholars and students through discourse on family, hunger, health, and disordered eating.

Several authors reflect that their courses on food attract a diversity of students making teaching both challenging and enjoyable as they learn from their experiences. As students grapple with how to analyze personal experience in an academic context, food becomes a tangible and emotionally charged vehicle for applying anthropological theory. In teaching anthropology courses, this is not an uncommon problem. However, this volume could benefit from deeper discussion of how to handle pedagogical challenges in the classroom. While ethical dilemmas such as students who struggle personally with issues such as food security and eating disorders are regularly mentioned, precisely how these problems are resolved in the classroom is largely absent (with Chrzan’s chapter a notable exception).

This volume will be of most use to graduate students and professors who are preparing to teach new courses, or wish to infuse their existing courses with new assignments, activities, and articles. Nearly every chapter includes expansive reference lists for readings and films, and many authors list website URLs for resources and classroom activities. A major strength of the volume is that most authors describe a specific assignment used in their course that is subsequently listed in the appendix. These assignments are excellent additions to the volume, providing easily adaptable teaching examples for readers.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, June 3 Edition

An amazing selection of items from around the internet gathered to delight and fascinate our faithful readers. If you have items you think our readers should read, send a note to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu or dberiss@uno.edu.

Here in the U.S., activists are constantly fighting over what constitutes “authentic” cuisine, about who can make or speak for and about the foods associated with various groups or ethnicities. In the real world, the complexities involved in making—and making sense—of cuisines seem hard to contain in neat cultural categories. For one variation on this, read this piece on the history of Chinese cooking in Mexico City.

As if matters of ethnicity and race were not complicated enough (see above), the story of Zarif Khan, aka Hot Tamale Louie, of Wyoming, renders them even more so. Wyoming provides a perfect setting for this very American story of race, citizenship, legal wrangling, capitalism, ethnic networking, Mexican food, immigration, Islam and much more and would be perfect for use in a wide variety of anthropology classes. Tamales, “the cronuts of fin-de-siècle America.” Yes, this may be the best thing you will read this month.

What makes a farming community grow? Northfield, Minnesota is apparently becoming a growth center for small farmers and the area’s success is about people, not soil or climate. Civil Eats examines why.

What can we learn from big data about American food trends? Check out the Google Food Trends report on the United States for 2016. Bibimbap is rising in popularity, while apparently the Rainbow Bagel (a trend we missed here at FoodAnthropology) is in sharp decline. People seem to think turmeric is a miracle food and they really like videos about pho. Seriously, however, there is a lot of material in the report with which one could raise some interesting questions for further (ethnographic) research.

From the American Futures Project, a report by Deborah Fallows on an interesting combination of efforts to make local food work for a working poor community in Arizona. A further report on this community from the USDA’s “Local Foods, Local Places” is also available.

The past week also featured an impressive series of food and nutrition articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, from food labels and how much sugar is hiding in your food, and how sugar taxes can successfully fund city programs, to clever uses for food waste, clever uses for unwanted and voracious introduced species of fish, clever uses for annoying plants and cracking down on the international trafficking of toxic foods.

The US NAS-NRC has just released its huge literature review on GMOs (Genetically-engineered crops: Experience and Prospects), and invites everyone to join the conversation. It managed to strike some balance between the industry and anti-industry views, which contend that GE foods are not/are unsafe or cause health problems; so there is no need to regulate products based on how they were produced by GE (or not). On the risks and labeling issues, the authors assert that their current lack of negative findings do not rule out that possible hazards or additional risks might be evidenced in the future, or preclude the finding that GE foods should be labeled for reasons other than health risks, in response to consumer demands.

Creole tomatoes are in season in Louisiana right now. They are generally thought to draw their distinctiveness from the soils of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, down river from New Orleans, and they are much prized locally. There is a Creole tomato festival and Creole tomato mythology. Perhaps most interestingly, there are farmers and families with good stories, which you can read about here.

Weird news: customers in a vegan café in Tbilisi, Georgia, were attacked by a group of men throwing sausages, grilled meat, and fish at them. Food is a powerful symbol, of course, and in this case seems to be somehow related to questions of sexuality.

Regular FoodAnthropology contributor Ellen Messer has sent us the following brief book reading notes, opening a new section for our periodic reading digest:

Blake, Michael 2015 Maize for the Gods. Unearthing the 9,000 year History of Corn. Oakland: University of California Press.  This is an exciting consolidation of all the new (most recent 30 years) archaeological, archaeobotanical, and genetic information that now allows scholars to trace more accurately the bicultural evolution and diffusion of maize. In the final chapter on material culture (“Daily Tools and Sacred Symbols”) Blake makes an effort to integrate the cultural dimensions, that would have been stronger if he had consulted more with nutritional anthropologists who work on diet and agriculture.

Lusk, Jayson (2016) Unnaturally Delicious. How Science and Technology Are Serving Up Super Foods to Save the World. NY: St. Martin’s Press.  This breezily written volume by an ag economist at Oklahoma State University tries to construct a pro-technology ground on all aspects of agricultural and food-chain questions, while also giving good summaries of the ag-ecological and anti-high tech positions.

Fresco, Louise O. (2016) Hamburgers in Paradise. The Stories Behind the Food We Eat. Liz Waters, Trans. Princeton University Press.  Building on her decades of experience as a leader at FAO and European ag universities, Fresco indulges in a history of agriculture that draws on sources as wide-ranging as the Bible and art history to the latest cutting edge agricultural and related sciences.  Her goal, in addition to synthesizing her historical knowledge, is to move beyond the polarization over GMOs and related chemical-intensive technologies, and provide some bridging positions.  Whether you think she succeeds probably depends on your starting point (Bee Wilson’s review in The Guardian calls it “maddening”).

 

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Eating Insects Detroit

Gina Louise Hunter
Illinois State University

Eating Insects Detroit: Exploring the Culture of Insects as Food and Feed, held May 26-28 at Wayne State University brought together industry leaders, researchers, activists, and “ento-prenuers” of all stripes. While insect foods are relished by people throughout the world, most Europeans, Americans, and Canadians cannot stomach the thought of eating bugs. Yet, recent years have seen the introduction of a number of insect-based food products on the North American market, such as Chapul’s protein bars made with cricket “flour.” Getting consumers to overcome the yuck-factor was one theme at the conference. A free vendor exhibit allowed the 150 registered conference goers and over 70 members of the public to sample cricket and mealworm products (pasta, cookies, chips), an insect-based meat substitute, roasted insect snacks, and a variety of protein bars.  What does One Hop Kitchen’s Cricket Bolognese sauce taste like?  Bolognese sauce! Crickets, the so-called “gateway bug,” and mealworms are by far the most common insects raised for human-food due to long industry experience with these two as pet feed and perhaps because they are seen as easily integrated into the North American diet.

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Chocolate glazed donut with ant sprinkles, photo by Gina Louise Hunter

That, at least, is the hope of conference attendees who see insects as the future of food. While a number of papers focused on market research, branding, and product development, there was a consistent undercurrent of the revolutionary potential of insects as food and feed. Insects are efficient feed converters, have a small environmental foot-print, and are very nutritious—high in protein and fats, vitamins and minerals. Farmers are still working out many of the details of scaling up production, regulations, and international trade. An open, informative meeting of North American Edible Insects Coalition allowed participants to voice perspectives on how the industry should develop—if insects are an alternative and sustainable protein source, can the industry develop in ways that uphold other alternative values such as transparency, traceability, organic production, and social justice in the food system?  Attending the conference felt less like an academic exercise and more like joining a movement.

It’s a movement that is gaining momentum. Certainly entomophagy is not new. Gene R. DeFoliart (1925–2013) published the The Food Insects Newsletter from 1988 until 2000. Recently interest in insects surged with the publication of the FAO’s watershed report, Edible Insects: Future prospects for Food and Feed security (2013). Former FAO Senior Forestry Officer and coordinator of Edible Insect Program, Paul Vantomme, perhaps the international guru of edible insects, was on hand to offer insights and concluded the conference with a presentation of hope and caution on how insects might feed the world.

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Cricket kebab. Photo by Gina Louise Hunter.

The conference program reveals the diversity of presenters and perspectives as well as the significant international participation. Session were a highly entertaining, if somewhat bewildering experience — in one half hour span, for instance, we heard a scientific paper on the nutritional profile of fish raised on insect feed, a market study on consumer acceptance of insect foods, and a testimonial from a “micro-rancher.” There were even a few humanities contributions: Amy Wright (Austin Peay State University) read from her piece in Gastronomica, Laura Shine (Concordia University) offered a sensorial and Latour-ian approach to experiencing insects, and David Gracer (Community College of Rhode Island) emphasized the role of stories and mini-manifestos in creating culture change.

And anthropology? Conference organizer, Julie Lesnik (Wayne State University) studies the potential role of termites in the Australopithicus diet but is broadly interested in entomophagy. Her broad interest was reflected in the conference, yet it was clear that most attendees knew each other or knew of each other and the conviviality was contagious. Me? I’m a cultural anthropologist interested in the insect food movement and, thanks to the conference, I’m a newly confirmed entomophagist.

 

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Mealworm fritter on cricket risotto. Photo by Gina Louise Hunter.

With so much delicious food on hand, how could one not eat insects? Detroit food truck, Monkey Business, offered cricket kabobs, (real) ants on a (fake) log, chocolate glazed donut with ant sprinkles, and mealworm quesadillas inspired by recipes from the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook author, David George Gordon, who was also a presenter.

 

 

The pièce de résistance, however, was a five-course gourmet dinner with cocktails and wine-pairings, prepared by local chefs and sourced with insects from Detroit Ento. Held in the hip Salt and Cedar letter press studio space, the dinner featured insect ingredients in everything but the wine. Pictured here is a mealworm fritter on cricket risotto and a Thai-style coconut curry soup with wild rice, mealworms, and silkworm pupae. How did it all taste? Well, you’ll just have to get some bugs and try them for yourself.

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Thai-style coconut curry soup with wild rice, mealworms, and silkworm pupae. Photo by Gina Louise Hunter.

 

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