Throughout the week of April 3, 5C students chowed down on an unfamiliar food — crickets.
Chirps, a company that promotes eating insects as a sustainable protein source and sells cricket-based food products, helped to provide the cricket-based dishes across the 5Cs. The company also helped organize the second annual “Chirped Challenge” cooking competition, hosted at Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Dining Hall April 4.
This year’s event featured eight teams comprised of students from across the 5Cs, all competing to cook the best dish within an hour. Students were expected to produce a dish with cricket flour for a panel of three judges: Chirps co-founder Laura D’Asaro, Scripps College catering manager Rebecca Mejia and CMC executive chef Paula Baca.
The winner of this year’s challenge was “Team Pomona” with an apple “Crispckt” dish. Some of the other competing dishes included lemon poppy cricket pancakes, crepe du grillon, sopes and cricket dumplings.
D’Asaro and co-founder Rose Wang, created Chirps after studying abroad and marveling at the normalcy of eating bugs in other countries. Their idea gained popularity when they pitched their idea on Shark Tank in 2017, and the pair has since launched several cricket-based products including chips, chocolate ‘chirp’ cookie mix and protein powder.
“More people eat insects than speak English in the world, so we are kind of the weirdos,” D’Asaro said.
Gemma Bulos, the director of CMC’s Kravis Lab for Social Impact, first helped bring the Chirped Challenge to Collins last year. She previously served as D’Asaro’s mentor for the Echoing Green Award, a social entrepreneurship fellowship, in 2015.
“I think like 70% of the world does eat insect protein, and my parents are from a country that does eat insect protein,” Bulos said. “I remember my father coming home from the Philippines and frying up crickets for brunch so it wasn’t a big deal for us.”
Each dining hall served a different cricket-based dish throughout the week to normalize insect-consumption and promote the event, Bulos said. CMC served a cricket-protein shake, Frary and Pitzer both served cricket chips and Scripps served cricket falafels.
Though Bulos developed the idea for a cooking competition, she said Shanil Verjee CM ’21 and Kendall Hollimon CM ’20 were the driving forces behind it. Both students became involved through the Kravis Lab and helped coordinate efforts for the previous year’s challenge.
“Honestly more people in the States should eat bugs — the rest of the world is already doing it,” Hollimon said via email. “I think this year’s competition was even better than the last.”
There are also many health and sustainability advantages to eating bugs.
“Insects are incredibly nutrient dense. Crickets have more [vitamin] B12 than salmon, more iron than spinach and they have a full amino acid profile,” D’Asaro said. “Our current animal agriculture industry uses about half of the freshwater in the United States and a third of the arable land, whereas crickets use so much fewer resources and contribute so much less greenhouse gases.”
D’Asaro said that, to her knowledge, the 5Cs are the first colleges to serve insects in their dining halls, and that Chirps is the first insect product to be sold at a major supermarket. They are now being sold in over 12,000 stores, including Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain by revenue in 2018.
“I think the way that you actually create change is to make it a part of everyday food,” D’Asaro said. “We want this to be an example for students across the nation.”
Nova Quaoser’s CM ’19 team cooked cricket flour pancakes with pan-fried bananas, mini churros and a parfait with cinnamon and nutmeg in the Chirped Challenge. Quaoser is vegan and said she is conflicted about eating insects.
“Should I eat [insects] to normalize it, or should I advocate for it but say I don’t eat [them]?” Quaoser said.
Half of the Chirps team is vegetarian or “entotarian” — people who do not eat animals other than insects — and they often have this same debate amongst themselves, D’Asaro said.
Quaoser ultimately said he supports Chirps because of the environmental benefits of replacing larger animal protein with insect protein.