In the press room at San Diego Comic-Con, early Thursday evening, it's snack time.
Well, for me at least. At the risk of spoiling my dinner, I'm digging into a very particular type of protein bar -- the kind that's going to power me through my last story of the day, in more ways than one.
The bar, brown and moist, is meant to taste like peanut butter and strawberry jelly. In truth, biting in you'd think that's all that was in it. But along with the real strawberries and bits of peanut, this bar also contains. Cricket powder, to be precise.
Now, I'm not sitting here eating a cricket protein bar because I hate convention food that much.
It's actually in promotion of the upcoming TBS television series Snowpiercer. Snowpiercer is a TV adaption of a comic (it was also a movie in 2014) slated for 2020. The show takes place a few years after the world has become a frozen wasteland. A train carries what remains of humanity, and even in the apocalypse there's a disparity between the folks in the fancy front of the train and the ones barely getting by in the back.
And by barely getting by, we're talking about subsisting off nutrient bars of jellied cockroaches.
Fortunately, the protein bar thatgoers can pick up from one of several vending machines is nothing like that. Tragically, it's not made with cockroaches. It's also pretty good -- dense, chewy, a bit crunchy, the strawberry lends a fresh note, and it doesn't taste like, well, crickets.
As for the idea of subsisting on protein bars, I get it. When I arrive at the Snowpiercer booth on the expo floor at 4:30 p.m. PT, I've eaten two caramel toffee sea salt bars and nothing else all day long. The world might not have frozen over, but these are, nonetheless, meager times on the food front in the midst of a 130,000-plus person convention with entirely too much to take in.
To get the cricket bar, you go up to a vending machine with a giant touchscreen, and enter your email address, watch a short video from Snowpiercer, and down drops a cricket protein bar in a black wrapper with blue and white lettering.
Scarfing down a bug bar isn't just a promotional stunt. The bars come from the Aspire CEO and co-founder Mohammed Ashour thinks it's a point worth underlining., a company based in Austin, Texas that raises crickets for human consumption. Aspire's been on a mission to educate people about how edible insects like crickets are often higher in iron, protein, calcium and the like, and are also a more environmentally sustainable source of nutrients, than meat. And since Snowpiercer is essentially dealing with the aftermath of climate change,
"The show talks about a dystopian future where as a result of a lot of social collapses, you end up in this world where there's this asymmetry in how nutrition and wealth and abundance and opportunity is distributed," Ashour said. That's not merely science fiction. "We are using tremendous amounts of resources to produce nutrition calories at an incredible environmental cost."
Can swapping out steak for some crickets keep us all off the apocalypse train? That remains to be seen, but Ashour is hoping Comic-Con's attendees will consider it.
And hey -- at least it's not cockroaches.