The Maclean’s-Concordia town hall on the future of education and the future of work featured a student panel, designed to highlight a slice of university life for high school and CEGEP students. Here is an edited and condensed transcript of Maclean’s editor of special issues Kim Honey interviewing entomophagist Laura Shine.
Laura Shine: Hi, everybody. My name is Laura Shine. I’m a PhD student here in Concordia’s Humanities Department, which is a trans-disciplinary department. So I’m actually studying entomophagy, so that is eating insects as a food. And so I’m studying it in this program from a trans-disciplinary perspective, which is anthropology of food, food marketing, and sensory studies.
Kim Honey: Laura actually has a snack for us tonight. The crickets are her contribution to this event.
Laura Shine: They’re organic.
Kim Honey: We’ll get to that in a minute. So you started out in literature. Is that correct?
Laura Shine: Yes.
Kim Honey: Can you explain a little bit about your pathway and your thinking when you decided to choose French literature?
Laura Shine: I’m happy to have somebody else in the audience (Ubisoft vice president Cedric Orvoine) to see how far it takes us, right? I had always loved reading when I was a child, to the point where my parents sometimes had to take the books out of my hands because I would always be late for school. I would be hiding at night under the covers reading with a flashlight, and that kind of thing. So in CEGEP I had taken a very, very general and broad program, so I could gone into the sciences, into arts, into social sciences. And I decided I’d just go with what I’d always loved doing, even though I’m from a family of scientists and doctors who were kind of surprised by this choice.
And it was great. I really loved doing my undergrad. After that, I did a year in political science because I loved so many subjects that I can never choose. And then I went back to literature to do my Master’s, and I decided to integrate another passion of mine, which is food. So I studied food in 19th century literature as my Master’s thesis.
Kim Honey: So how do you go from food in 19th century literature to crickets?
Kim Honey: I know I keep saying crickets, but let’s just say insects.
Laura Shine: When I finished my Master’s, I felt that I wanted to go on, I really wanted to study some more, and that I especially wanted to study food more, but for itself, not really as part of something else. And I decided that I would try to find a PhD program that would give me enough freedom to study that in lots of different disciplines. And so this is why I came to Concordia. And I had always been interested in emergent food practices, and entomophagy is kind of an extreme example of this. I like to go for the extremes. It’s great when you’re at a party and people ask you what you’re doing, and when you talk about your PhD topic, they’re not like, “Oh my God, I have to get another glass of wine,” you know. People are actually engaged, and that’s something that’s really important to me.
Kim Honey: I want you to tell the audience what’s in your basement.
Laura Shine: I have a small mealworm farm. So I grow little beetles and their babies, the mealworms.
Kim Honey: And what’s in your freezer?
Laura Shine: Lots of different types.
Kim Honey: Can you explain the reason why we’re interested in crickets as an alternate source of protein?
Laura Shine: That’s what got me interested in them in the first place, because they’re really seen as an alternative, more sustainable source of protein that lots of the ones that we have these days, such as cattle and even all the other types of animals. So they require much less feed, up to 12 times less feed if you compare crickets and beef, for example, up to 20 times less water. These numbers are still really kind of in the air because it’s still slightly theoretical. It’s really the beginning of farming. But there’s definitely something interesting there. They require a lot less space as well to be grown, and there’s a lot less greenhouse gas emissions as well.
Kim Honey: Can you tell us what’s on the menu tonight?
Laura Shine: I made two different little bites. There’s one that’s a savoury cake containing some mealworm flour. So there’s no visible insects. That’s kind of the gateway bug, right?
And the other bite is kind of a riff on a traditional Mexican nacho that incorporates a local kind of grasshopper called chapulines. Both these crickets and mealworms are raised by a farm in Ontario that grows them organically for human consumption. So there’s absolutely no risk – unless you have a shellfish allergy. I just want to mention that right now. Because both shellfish and insects are arthropods, so it hasn’t been completely proven but just a warning, a word of caution.
Kim Honey: Food allergy alert. OK, so we’re going to wrap up now. And Laura is actually serving these snacks outside. Maclean’s is doing a Facebook Live video and we are looking for volunteers to eat their first crickets on Facebook Live. So I’m just warning you that’s what’s happening. And if you’d like to do that, you’re more than welcome.