Bug Wall: Climbing El Cap on a Bug Diet

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Kevin Corrigan
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This story originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of our print edition.

Meghan Curry Bug Vivant Rock Climbing El Capitan

A toasted coconut cricket snack on the portaledge. Photo: Meghan Curry

Meghan Curry’s resume includes time spent over a microscope, a masters degree in entomology, and months living the climbing bum lifestyle out of her car. It wasn’t until her sixth big wall that she thought to combine her passions. Having delved into the world of entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, Meghan embarked on a quest to solo Mescalito (VI 5.9 A3+) on El Cap while subsisting on a primarily bug diet. We spoke to Meghan about her experience.

So, why eat bugs on a big wall?

Raising awareness. There’s quite a bit of food now available that uses edible insects, and it’s something people, especially climbers, can integrate into their diet. I think climbers are going to be a pretty sympathetic group of folks to the edible insect movement. We’re naturally adventurous and concerned about the environment.

Are insects cheap? Should dirtbags start eating bugs?

Not at the moment. The price is coming down on cricket flour, which is the most commonly used and available insect food source. It’s farm-raised, ground-up insects you can bake and cook with, a lot like nut flours. It’s still hitting around $35 to $40 per pound, but it’s a new industry. If you want to raise your own insects at home, that can be extremely cost effective, for a protein source of your own or to sell at a small scale.

To be clear, you were not climbing El Cap and only eating insects you found on the wall. Right?

[Laughs.] No. It probably wouldn’t be safe. The bugs in Yosemite are most likely not exposed to pesticides or heavy metals, but God only knows what they’ve been eating around that cliff. Probably a lot of human feces.

Meghan Curry Bug Vivant Rock Climbing El Capitan

The entomophagy enthusiast early on her Mescalito climb. Photo: Meghan Curry

Would a passerby even know that you were eating bugs?

Probably not. The only straight-up, whole insects I had were a handful of these roasted insect snacks from Next Millennium Farms. They have flavored roasted crickets and meal worms. They were tasty, but not a huge part of my diet.

What did your diet look like?

I’d wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee, and either oatmeal or a handful of granola, both made with cricket flour. I’d have cricket bars and protein shakes throughout the day. For lunch, I might have those snack roasted insects. For dinner, I had a cool product from Bugeater Foods. They produce a rice made with cricket flour. It tastes and cooks a lot like rice, but it has more protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and quite a bit more fiber. I would cook that up with a canned dinner from a company called C-Fu. They make chili, spaghetti sauce, and soup with meal worm protein. My favorite thing was to cook up the chili with the rice, shave a bunch of parmesan cheese into it, put it on a burrito, and have a big fat meal worm chili and cricket rice burrito. Then for dessert I’d have cricket flour cookies and a swig of bourbon and pass out.

Is there an advantage to eating bugs?

They have a lot of protein. Insects, especially crickets, are a complete protein, which is important on a big wall. Insects also have good fat, lots of vitamin D, tons and tons of iron, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. I didn’t add up how much fiber I had, but big wall constipation was not an issue on this route.

What would you recommend to someone looking to try their first insect food?

Just to go right for it. Step over the gateway bug of cricket flour, and actually see what you’re eating. Hit up your local cricket ranch, and make a Thai cricket salad or cricket cookies or pasta or orzo. There’s all kinds of stuff you can make with it.

To learn more about edible insects and to read Meghan’s full trip report, visit bugvivant.com.