Most people expect to find hot dogs, pizzas, fries and nachos for sale at their favorite sports stadium. This year, the Oakland Coliseum added something unexpected to the mix: crickets.
The coliseum’s executive chef, Effie Speigler, said he starts every season looking for something to impress thousands of sport fans. “I wanted to do something different, so once I found there were crickets based in Oakland, I thought that was a perfect marriage,” he said.
A’s fans this season could choose one of two flavors of fried tropical house crickets in colorful plastic pouches: zesty lime and sweet 5-spice, both packaged and sold by Oakland-based Oaktown Crickets.
The crickets (species name: Gryllodes sigillatus) are raised at Tiny Farms, a cricket-only operation in San Leandro, just four miles from the stadium. The “high-tech” farm uses automated temperature and humidity controls and an app to track the crickets’ life cycle, said Tiny Farms chief science officer Jared Ginn. The chirping insects live in white plastic and steel-framed bins lined with egg crates, which offer the crickets nooks in which to nest.
The facility, said Tiny Farms’ CEO Andrew Brentano, is “very clean.”
The Oakland Coliseum is not the first stadium to offer sports fans insects for snacks. Seattle’s Safeco Field partnered with a local Mexican restaurant to import hundreds of kilograms of grasshoppers from Oaxaca, Mexico, to sell at Mariners games last year.
The stadium sold over 30,000 orders of the grasshoppers, seasoned with lime and chili pepper, in the 2017 season. “A lot of people take pictures of them,” said Steve Dominguez, general manager of Centerplate, a catering service at Safeco Field. “It becomes a very Instagram moment.”
Insects have been a part of human diets for thousands of years, but modern western societies have resisted eating them, said Mark Hoddle, director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside.
“Northern European countries convinced their colonies that this was a disgusting habit,” said Florence Dunkel, associate professor of entomology at Montana State University.
In recent years, Western aversion has started to give way because bugs are a sustainable—and potentially very local—source of protein and other nutrients. In fact, a 2013 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization said that expanding insect consumption globally can play a role in lowering greenhouse emissions associated with meat production.
Since then, dietary insects have taken off. In 2018, roughly 350 companies around the world offered edible insects, up from 30 companies in 2013 and just one company in 2012, according to Robert Nathan Allen, board chair of the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture, an organization that advocates for insects as “feed and food.”
“There has been a huge shift over the last six years from shock to people telling us, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea,’” Brentano said.
Oaktown Crickets are sold inside the stadium and can be eaten on their own or as a topping for pizza or salad.
“They are crunchy and limey. It’s like eating the skin of a peanut,” said Ashvin Lad, a sports fan from Chicago who tried the bugs at an A’s game in August.
San Jose State University environmental studies professor Jeanine Pfeiffer said it was a “pleasant surprise” to see crickets for sale at the stadium. “I’ve been eating chapulines for a really long time, and it’s so hard to find them other than in novelty shops, where they’ve been sitting around for way too long and cost way too much,” she said, using the Spanish word for grasshopper.
Julie Schloss, an A’s fan from Oakland, said she wasn’t surprised to see the cricket snacks for sale in a city like Oakland. “This place is very forward thinking,” she said.
Baseball season just ended, but the crickets will continue to be served at Raiders games, Speigler said. The stadium orders a case of 120 packets of Oaktown Crickets every week. The locally-grown crickets are also available on Amazon.
“We just want to get the crickets out there to the world,” Ginn said.