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After munching chips and brownies made with crickets, Ian Sofie pronounced them to be quite tasty.

“You need to get over the ‘it’s a bug’ part,” Sofie said. “Once you do that, it’s fun.”

The Manhattan High School senior came with his food class to learn about eating insects at Montana State University’s 32nd annual Bug Buffet.

Hundreds of college students, staff and community members waited in line to sample salsa and chips made with mealworms and termites, hazelnut cricket bread with black ant butter, and Bombyx pupa and mealworm wild rice.

Entomology professor Florence Dunkel has organized the Bug Buffet for decades, growing the event from a single burner, pound of butter and bunch of crickets, to a large event for hundreds in the Strand Union Building. She brings the passion of an evangelist to promoting edible insects.

It may seem a quirky novelty to Americans, but to millions of people around the world, eating insects means the difference between life and starvation, said MSU President Waded Cruzado.

When Americans and Europeans tell people in Africa to wage war on locusts, instead of treating them as a food source, we’re doing them an incredible disservice, Dunkel said, contributing to poverty and child malnutrition.

“At this moment people of European descent are waging war on a food source these people depend on,” she said.

We also need to accept insects as food for ourselves, Dunkel argued, because they’re far more sustainable than beef or other traditional meats, using up far less land and far less water and producing far less greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Besides, insects are “delicious,” Dunkel said. “I like grasshoppers — sautéed in butter, put on a salad.”

Cruzado declared that MSU is a national leader not only in scientific research, undergraduate education and engagement with the larger world, but also in entomophagy – the practice of eating insects.

Chef Joseph Yoon of Brooklyn Bugs presented Cruzado with a double chocolate mealworm ganache cake.

“It’s awesome,” said MSU music education student Lauren Vandette, standing in line for more cricket dish samples. “Once you get over the stigma in your head of eating bugs, then it’s really good. I like that they’re crispy.”

Not everyone was sold, however. One girl told her friends, “No … my stomach … I’m leaving.”

Yet enough Americans are game to try it that new insect-snack businesses are emerging.

“Manchurian scorpions are one of our best sellers,” said Bill Broadbent of Lewiston, Maine, owner of EntoSense Cricket Snacks. The snacks come in garlic, orange or white cheddar flavors.

“Wolfgang Puck has bought from us,” Broadbent said. “The Seattle Mariners have grasshoppers from Mexico – they sell out every game.”

Kathy Rolin, one of the founders of Cowboy Cricket Farms, was selling snack bags of whole roasted crickets. “Embrace the Crunch,” read her T-shirt.

Cowboy Cricket Farms has a kitchen in Belgrade and just opened a new shop in Bozeman on Bridger Canyon Drive, to educate kids and families. Rolin said she was a nutrition student at MSU and attended the Bug Buffet four years ago, and that led to starting Cowboy Cricket Farms.

“It was really inspiring,” she said.

Leaders in a global effort to promote eating insects came for the Bug Buffet and for Thursday’s all-day academic conference at the Museum of the Rockies.

Professor Arnold van Huis of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands said he was working in Africa 25 years ago, trying to teach farmers biological control of insects, when someone told him that the women can earn more money collecting insects from the millet than from the grain itself.

“I felt ashamed,” van Huis said. “They know we consider it kind of primitive” to eat insects, he said. He worked for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and in 2013 wrote a book on “Edible Insects” that has been downloaded millions of times worldwide. “It’s a game changer.”

Sunny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and an entomologist, said a billion people go hungry each year, millions take drugs for heart disease and diabetes, and we’re facing climate change. Adding insects to our diet could help with all three problems.

“Insects offer a real exciting ability to meet the nutritional needs of our burgeoning population,” Ramaswamy said.

Dunkel thanked everyone for coming to the Bug Buffet and declared, “Bon appétit!”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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