A couple of years ago I did a little experiment and ordered a bunch of insect based foods. We tried them as a family and I wrote up some tasting notes. I concluded that as well as being nutritious and a sustainable form of protein, insect foods are mostly pretty innocuous. You could incorporate insects into your diet without really noticing, if you choose the foods where cricket protein is one of various ingredients.
In the course of my research I also came across Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm, a working farm and small visitor attraction in West Wales. It has a cafe, the Grub Kitchen, which famously serves insects – the only place I know of that does. I made a note to pop in when we were next in the area, and this week we were visiting family not far away. We stopped in for lunch and a mooch around the farm.
The Grub Kitchen is in an old farmyard. Diners sit in what was once a cow shed, with smart stone walls and timber windows. A biomass-fired under-floor heating system keeps it nice and warm. The menu is short, and while the insects get all the attention, there is plenty of choice. It’s not an insect restaurant, it’s a sustainable restaurant that includes insects as part of the menu. Local and seasonal food, outdoor reared meat and sustainably caught fish all feature.
But obviously I was there for the bugs, and there were a handful of choices – cricket pakora, mealworm hummus, or an insect tasting board. Zach went for the ‘grub-fried chicken’ from the kids menu with only minor hesitation. I ordered the bug burger.
The burger is made of ‘vexo’, a combination of insect and plant proteins and the Grub Kitchen’s own invention. It’s quite finely grained and makes for a slightly dense patty, but it’s got a good bite to it. With pickles and coleslaw, it’s a perfectly good burger and you wouldn’t know you were eating insects. The plate does have a some more visibly insect-like garnishes as a finishing touch – a pinch of ants on a tomato, some mealworms and toasted crickets. They’re crunchy and delicate and don’t taste of a whole lot.
Meanwhile, Zach had cleared his plate of chicken in cricket batter, Eden had some local sausage and Lou enjoyed a vegan jackfruit burger on sourdough. All beautiful, and the point here is that there are many ways to enjoy good sustainable food – including insects if you like.
As for the Bug Farm itself, as a visitor attraction it is small, green, and perfectly formed – like a dock beetle. At the moment it has a tiny museum and insect zoo with a variety of beetles, scorpions, spiders and stick insects. Pride of place goes to the leafcutter ants that traverse the walls and ceiling in glass tubes. I could have watched the coming and going of their tiny agricultural society all day. Outside there’s a play area and meadows that highlight sustainable farming techniques, though these would all be better in the summer when the wild local insects are out and about.
At the moment this is a bug themed farm rather than an actual bug farm, but that won’t be the case for long. A commercial insect farm is being constructed on site. I quizzed the lady at reception over whether that would be open to the public or not and it’s too early to tell, but I hope so. That would be a natural next step in demonstrating to people that insects are a practical 21st century food.