Can Cricket Protein Save the Planet?
There are 200 million insects for every human being on earth. And while for most people, the thought of eating even just one of these critters might send a chill of disgust down their spine, for 2 billion people in the world, consuming creepy crawlies is actually part of a traditional diet.
In fact, entomophagy – the official term for eating insects – has been making waves across various markets in the food industry for the past several years. Innovative brands like Exo and Chapul continue to dominate the ‘mainstream’ space, while craft brands like Entomo Farms and Aketta help expand what it means to consume insects as more markets open up to the idea of bug-based treats. Interestingly, amid the 10 quintillion insects who are alive at any given time, one particular species stands out from the rest as particularly easy to eat – if you can stomach it.
Crickets come out on top
As Crossfit fanatics, paleo lovers, and gluten-free eaters know, crickets are chock-full of Vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and essential amino acids. And seeing as we’re facing a potential global protein shortage, the fact that they’re comprised of 60 percent pure protein doesn’t hurt either.
Some experts believe cultivating insects is not only good for our health but good for the food we eat, too. As food expert Michael Pollan told Fortune, if consumers are too squeamish to ingest bugs themselves, one option would be to raise bugs to feed the cattle we already eat. “This would take tremendous pressure off the fisheries and allow us to feed the corn and soy we’re now feeding chickens and pigs to people.”
Still, others believe that the demand for insect food products will continue to grow. In the years since the cricket trend first made its way to the North American market, we’ve seen crickets transformed from pests to popular food items ripe with culinary possibilities. From chips and baking flour, to protein bars, and even pasta sauce.
Why this is sustainable in the long run
In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations held the inaugural “Insects to Feed The World” Conference in an effort to promote the global consumption of bugs. That same year, an academic study was published which found that a fifth of all consumers claimed to be ready to adopt insects as food. Today, we have organizations such as The North American Edible Insect Coalition. “While our official mission statement is still being refined, I believe the NAEIC will be a driving force in creating an insect as food and feed industry that is safe, responsible and transparent,” shared Robert Allen, Food Outreach Administrator for the newly formed organization.
Brands in a hurry to get ahead of the curve by rising to meet the growing demand are turning to the only resource that makes sense… bug farms.
As the population rises, so does the demand for an increase in food production. Unfortunately, this places an already heavy burden on our limited resources of land, water, and energy. While some consumers are still trying to get over the ‘yuck factor’ of eating bugs, they may soon find themselves with no other choice. Simply put, insect farming poses far less of a threat to our natural resources than traditional farms do. More specifically:
- They have high feed-conversion efficiency (an animal’s capacity to convert feed mass into increased body mass)
- They can be reared on organic side streams, reducing environmental contamination, while adding value to waste
- They emit relatively few greenhouse gases and relatively little ammonia
- They require significantly less water than cattle rearing
- They have few animal welfare issues
- They pose a low risk of transmitting zoonotic infections
Dubbed “entopreneurs,”the number of insect farmers is steadily growing as they continue to do their part to save the planet and disrupting the food industry.
But will it catch on?
Paul Rozin, who studies the psychology of disgust at the University of Pennsylvania, once told a reporter at The New Yorker, “It’s a problem that isn’t going to be solved by engineers. It will be solved by psychologists.” And while the ‘problem’ he was referring to was getting consumers to accept drinking recycled water, the concept is applicable to eating insects as well.
As a brand, you still have the power to change your consumer’s mind. Many brands in the insect-as-food space are doing just that, whether it’s through marketing or even pairing insects with foods consumers are more willing to stomach.
Follow her at @D_isforDayana