Want Bugs With That? Chef Yoon Serves Up an Entymological Feast at Colgate

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Guacamole dusted with crispy, crushed black ants. Nachos covered in cricket cheese sauce. Brownies flavored with mealworm powder. These were just a few of the entomological delicacies enjoyed by Colgate students, faculty, and staff during a recent visit by Chef Joseph Yoon, the self-proclaimed edible insect ambassador and founder of Brooklyn Bugs.

Fresh off a month-long tour of Australia, where he spoke at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland Museum, SXSW Sydney, and the University of Adelaide, Yoon arrived in Hamilton for a two-day visit, Nov. 9–10, sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, biology, Ciccone Commons, Dart Colegrove Commons, and sociology and anthropology, and the Robert H.N. Ho Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative.

Yoon spent an afternoon prepping insect dishes with the help of Chartwells Executive Chef Anthony Donofrio and Assistant Director of Sustainability Julia Sparks, then gave a presentation at an ENST Brown Bag Lunch to a packed house.

“The world has collectively never spoken more about eating insects than this present moment,” Yoon says.

In his talk — accompanied by an assortment of buggified treats — Yoon discussed the potential of not only edible insects, but the burgeoning industry of insect agriculture to create resilient solutions for our global food systems.

Professor Ian Helfant (environmental studies, Russian and Eurasian studies) met Yoon when he attended the Insects to Feed the World Conference in Quebec City in June 2022. Helfant was inspired to invite Yoon to Colgate as part of his Hunting, Eating, and Vegetarianism (ENST 324) course. “Insects are a source of high-quality protein largely overlooked by consumers in North America and Europe, but their efficiency at converting a range of nutrients into an edible form, their low-carbon and environmental impacts, their variety — and, yes, their incredible taste when prepared well — should make each of us consider adding them to our menus,” he says. 

Yoon explained that insect agriculture is a circular and regenerative process. “We can reduce food waste going into our landfills by feeding it to black soldier fly larvae,” he says. “The larvae eat food waste without releasing methane, and they generate frass (excrement), which is an incredible organic fertilizer. Frass also contains the exuviae or exoskeletons from the insects and is proven to be effective at improving soil health.” He also noted that insects require far less water, land, and feed, and produce less greenhouse gas emissions to produce an equivalent weight of protein than traditional livestock.

Sparks, who assisted Chef Yoon during his visit, said that the ways in which he incorporated insects into familiar dishes made them more palatable, which encouraged more people to step beyond their initial hesitation. “There were many community members who went from saying they would never actually eat bugs, to taking a big bite of salted ant guacamole just an hour later,” she added.

Yoon’s insect-eating advocacy stems from his conviction that education is key to changing minds and creating behavioral change. He founded Brooklyn Bugs in 2017 as a means to normalize edible insects through delicious and educational programming because he believes in the potential of edible insects and the innovation of insect agriculture to impact global food systems and the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “I had to remove my ego to take the global stage,” he says. “That allows for you to be resilient even when your friends might say, ‘What’s up with that? You’re bugging.’”