I have a confession to make: I’ve chowed down on a few bugs in my lifetime, which is not something many North Americans like to do. Don’t go comparing me to Beetlejuice just yet; like many other people out there, it was completely accidental. You know what I’m talking about: that poorly-timed inhale while out for a run or bike ride. The next thing you know, you’re horking like a cat with a hairball. But for many people, eating bugs isn’t so accidental anymore, and why not? Bugs are a healthy, sustainable food source, and they’re changing protein as we currently know it.
Like me, you may not envision yourself eating crickets like popcorn, but how about in powder form? Earlier this week, Canadian grocery giant Loblaws announced it’s selling cricket powder under its line of President’s Choice products. The powder is described as a nutritious, mild-tasting addition to smoothies, sauces, chilli, curries and baking batters. So, you wouldn’t really taste it in a muffin or smoothie, for example, but you would be tapping into a great protein source. According to CBC News, just 1/2 cup of crickets contains almost the same amount of protein as meat, but with fewer calories and less fat. The list of health benefits goes on; the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization says eating insects, in general, can be a great source of minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium. Your immune system will also get a boost because bugs are loaded with a protein called chitlin, which produces healthy stomach bacteria.
There’s a method to this cricket powder madness, and as you might have already guessed, the bugs aren’t just being trapped in somebody’s backyard. They’re actually being treated as livestock; raised in farms for consumption. Entomo Farms in Norwood, Ontario raises what it calls free-range crickets, meaning there’s a lot of space for the bugs to roam around. The company recently featured on CBC, currently has three barns full of crickets, each about 20,000 square feet in size. Here’s a bonus: raising crickets is a lot more sustainable than raising cattle or pork. Crickets have a high feed conversion, meaning their body mass rapidly increases. They require a lot less water than raising animals, and they’re not a high risk for transmitting infections to nearby insects.
The timing for a new protein source couldn’t be better, says the UN, especially when reducing our carbon footprint is as important as ever. In fact, feeding future populations will require an abundance of beans, seaweed, fungi and insects. There are huge environmental risks and costs associated with raising traditional livestock; they emit greenhouse gases, and their manure produces ammonia and pollutes our waterways. An increased demand for meat will increase pressure on already overloaded resources like land, water fertilizers and energy. So, while you may not want to fulfill your protein needs with bugs, we don’t really have a huge choice in the matter. The time for change is now.
Of course, the one major hurdle to this protein solution is human acceptance. I have to admit, the reaction wasn’t good when I went in search of cricket powder at Loblaws the other day. When I asked for help, the person stocking the shelves in the health food department looked at me like I was out of my mind for even wanting to try it. But as the UN report points out, dietary trends seem to change so quickly. It uses the example of the acceptance of raw fish in sushi. And, the barrier insects face as a food source is really here in North America. They’re already eaten by 80 percent of the world’s population, specifically in Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to the CBC, the most popular are beetles and caterpillars, followed by wasps, grasshoppers, crickets and ants.
In the end, I didn’t end up buying the cricket powder, and it’s not because I was completely turned off by the idea of eating ground-up insects. It just so happens that if you’re allergic to crustaceans and shellfish, you may also have an allergic reaction to crickets. They both possess the common allergen chitlin, which is what gives both species their hard, crunchy shells. My husband is severely allergic to shellfish, and so I wouldn’t use the cricket powder in my cooking or baking experiments. When I told him he wouldn’t be allowed to eat crickets, he wasn’t too disappointed. He’s only just recently accepted my replacing the meat on our plates with beans, so bugs would have really taken some convincing.
How about you? Are you ready to start adding bugs to your diet?