Nothing satisfies at the end of a long day of climbing like a handful of meal worms. Or at least that’s the case for bugs-as-food proponent Meghan Curry. This September, the 29-year-old El Paso entomologist is putting her money (and her meal worms) where her mouth is. She plans to solo climb El Capitan eating nothing but insect-based foods.
Technically the trip up El Cap is just a two-week-long PR stunt—more about eating worms than placing gear. It’s Curry’s play to get the outdoors set onboard with bugs as the conversation about their viability as a sustainable protein replacement for livestock gets underway in the U.S. “It’s something the edible insect industry hasn’t done yet,” she says, “but these are people that are adventurous by nature and sustainability-minded.”
You won’t see Curry stuffing her face with whole insects during her climb, which she expects to tak ten-to-14 days. Rather, she’s utilizing pre-made bug-flour bars and cookies, and cricket-based fruit leathers. She anticipates needing between 4,000 and 5,000 calories per day during her climb, which shouldn't be a problem. Crickets offer 31 grams of protein per 200-calorie serving, which is more than salmon, chicken, beef, and eggs. They also offer 7.2 grams of fiber, something that most protein sources don’t offer at all. Plus, cricket flout is light. Carrying them won’t be nearly the burden that packing other protein might be.
“What she’s doing is she’s making a statement that these are powerful foods. These are foods that can get you up a mountain,” says Lee Cadesky, founder of C-fu Foods. Cadesky is hoping to bring a tofu-like bug-based product to market later this year, and he’ll be providing Curry with cans of bug chili and spaghetti with bug marinara for her ascent. Several companies, including San Francisco's Bitty Foods and Ontario's Next Millennium Farms, are donating bug-based foods to Curry for her trip.
Curry is a longtime climber and general bug lover. After receiving a graduate degree in entomology (the study of insects), she decided to pursue a career in entomophagy, or the consumption of insects. “I believe that insects are a really awesome tool we can use to feed the 9 billion people we’re going to have on this planet by 2050,” she says. She runs the website Bug Vivant, where the bug-curious can get recipes and buying and cooking advice. Her ultimate goal is to someday open up an edible wax worm production company.
“Wax worms are probably my favorite treat,” Curry says. “They have this buttery, honey, subtle flavor.” She adds that there’s also a gap in the wax worm market. While food-grade crickets have become pretty easy to get, wax worms can be harder to find.
Curry will be tweeting updates from the climb as well as sharing videos of both the pitches she’s climbing and the foods she’s eating. While her stunt immediately seems like it’s just one step removed from those reality shows where a survival celeb sticks a whole, wriggling centipede in his mouth for shock value, Curry promises this won’t be the way her videos go down. Her videos will be tasteful: No wriggling, no wincing, shirtless adventure dude, no hype. Just climb, eat, repeat, until she gets to the top.