Interview with Javon Latimore, photographer, entomologist and cooking instructor
Tell us a little about you and how you met the edible insects world
While attending Iowa State University, I learned that we have the 3rd largest entomological literature collection in the nation. I believe I was in the library the following few days exploring my options. I chose a random book that had no cover and was labeled “Edible” by Daniella Martin. After I read that book I decided to focus my entomology career on entomophagy. I was already tired of the basic foods we eat here in America and it was a huge plus that i could help make a positive impact on the world by eating insects. It made so much more sense to me.
What’s the key to convince the consumers that edible insects are excellent ingredients?
I read an article that brought up an phenomenal point: make it fun. I go by that motto and also try to remind people that even though it’s different to us, we’re still one of the few places that don’t eat insects, so our taste buds are missing out. I love people’s reaction when I mention sushi and how it didn’t become popular in the US until the 1970’s when a celebrity got their hands on it. I also try to remind people that when you eat a cow, you’re not looking at it’s head on a plate at the same time. Bringing up edible insects sustainability factor also doesn’t hurt, but for many that can only go so far. Overall, I always try to give people bountiful perspectives. Based off of people’s reaction, I can sway a convo in the right direction for most to at least be OK with the thought of consuming insects as the main dish, side dish, garnish, powder, flour, etc.
What’s the perception of american consumers about eating insects?
In my opinion, a lot of americans are 50/50 on the idea. There are a lot of millennials in particular who will happily consume insects, however there’s still plenty of people, young and old, who don’t like to venture out of their comfort zones for whatever reason. I haven’t figured that part out yet, which is why multiple perspectives is extremely important. As a bartender, I can talk to someone who’s never eaten sushi before and wouldn’t dare try an insect because it seems too odd, but can get them to at least consider the thought because an edible insect is more sustainable. I like to use my bartending skills to gauge people a lot to figure out which way to drive a conversation.
I think I have more push back in Iowa because this state is so farm driven. Yet, there are plenty people who understand what I’m trying to bring to the table here in Iowa because they come from farms as well. It’s all very intriguing and I appreciate the challenge.
Do you think that food styling could help to overcome the “yuk factor”?
Most definitely. If I can create familiarity it’s less intimidating. Eating a mealworm spring roll, which we served at the first class, looks like a spring roll, smells like a spring roll, and allows you easily manipulate your brain into saying “ok, it’s just a spring roll”, is less complicated than handing someone a mealworm and asking them to eat what they think is a worm already.
What’s the future of entomophagy in the West?
I believe the future of entomophagy for the West is here. It’s more people like me who are passionate to bring something tastefully unique, healthy, and sustainable to locals, more edible insect products, more awareness as to what it is, and more interest as to why it’s here. Entomophagy is going to be a difficult thing to get rid of out here. I won’t let it go, and I know quite a few people who won’t either.
This country is already so protein driven, it was game over once health was brought into the picture. As a millennial, I see my peers more health driven than ever and it’s the perfect ripple effect. Entomophagy is here to stay and has already made it’s own small ripple. It’ll grow, as fast as we want it to; but no matter what, it will grow.
What are your future plans regarding edible insects?
My future plans are to keep exposing the midwest to entomophagy in as many ways as possible. I will intend to promote entomophagy to the point where people are requesting it. From their I hope to open a food cart to attend farmers markets regularly then eventually open an edible insect cafe and make entomophagy a readily available concept for anyone who’s ready, curious, or just hungry looking for something different.