JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Three boys sat rapt in their theater seats beaming at a selection of snacks.
The reason for the excitement wasn't butter popcorn or Red Vines. Orrin Noon, 10, Arlo Davis, 11 and Axel Boily, 10, had just received samples of seasoned chapulines — Mexican grasshoppers — and cooked, farm-raised locusts, and the boys were ready to nosh on the crunchy critters.
The reaction didn't surprise David George Gordon, a public speaker, naturalist and author known as the Bug Chef, who delivered a lecture before a screening of "The Muppet Movie" at the Gold Town Theater and came with samples of edible insects.
"Kids are often more adventurous than adults," Gordon said.
Chapulines seemed to be the crowd favorite.
"The locusts are just too dry," Davis said.
The locusts, which were served intact and on skewers, had a texture and flavor that could have passed for dried corn husk. However, there was no mistaking the black bug eyes that lifelessly peered toward the darkened theater ceiling for plant matter.
Adult palates seemed to align with the boys' verdict.
"I like the chapulines because of the spices," Steve SueWing said.
Gordon also brought cricket-containing energy bars, and the general consensus was the energy bars tasted basically like any other energy bar.
"I've never had anyone say, 'I can really taste the cricket,'" Gordon said to laughs.
During the talk that preceded the taste test, Gordon made the case for entomophagy — the practice of eating insects — in the U.S. The event was part of the Science on Screen program, which pairs movies with science-oriented presentations.
"Eighty percent of the world's cultures eat insects," Gordon said in an interview. "We're in the clear minority that thinks it's weird."
He pointed out most people have unknowingly been eating insects the entirety of their lives since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowable limits for bugs.
Gordon said there would be benefits to intentionally eating and farming bugs, too.
He said bugs are nutritionally dense — pound for pound, cricket has about as much protein as ground beef — and have less negative impact on the environment.
Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than cattle or pigs, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They require less land and water than cattle, and a 2013 FAO report states bugs may pose less risk of transmitting infections to humans and wildlife.
Plus Gordon, who wore necklaces bearing likeness of both John the Baptist and a cockroach, said bugs are often compatible with religious dietary restrictions. John the Baptist is described in the Bible as eating locusts and honey.
"They're like the official Bible food," Gordon said. Some types of locusts are kosher, too.
While southeast Alaska's climate may not make it seem hospitable to farming bugs for cooking, Gordon said, there were two types of insects that could do well in Juneau.
Mealworms — the larval form of beetles, and not actually worms — and crickets are hearty bugs that are relatively easy to farm, he said.
There are devices about the size of a coffee maker that work great for raising mealworms and a garage could be easily converted into a cricket farm, he said.
"I have a friend who has a cricket farm in Denver," Gordon said. "It gets pretty cold there in the winters, too."