Consumption of insects, also known as Entomophagy, is a common practice in most of the world besides North America and Europe. Some insects are often thought of as delicacies, while others are eaten because of their sheer abundance and low cost. As the global population grows, as does the pressure to produce more food with the limited resources that are available. One possible solution to this conundrum, for those unwilling to renounce meat consumption, is to supply a meat that still supplies adequate dietary needs that is far less resource-intensive.
A Sustainable Substitute
Crickets, the cold-blooded creatures whose chirps create symphonies on warm summer nights, are a very feasible meat option in place of mammals and poultry. An absurd amount of food, roughly 36 percent of the world’s crops each year, are fed to livestock. Cattle are the most inefficient of commonly consumed livestock; according to this study it takes roughly 10 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of live beef, compared to crickets that require roughly 1.7 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of live cricket weight. It was also found from that study that approximately 80 percent of the cricket is digestible, compared to 55 percent in pigs and chicken and a low 40 percent in cattle.
The need to produce and allocate food, and resources to yield that food, for future generations sheds more light on the issue of freshwater allocation and scarcity. Only 2.5 percent of water on Earth is freshwater, but most is in glaciers, snowfields or aquifers, leaving only 0.007 percent of Earth’s water directly available for human use. Livestock requires a lot of water; for one pound of chicken meat it takes roughly 500 gallons of water, and for one pound of beef it takes roughly 2,000 gallons of water whereas it only takes about one gallon of water to produce one pound of crickets.
Land use is also something to be seriously considered when deciding if a diet that incorporates meat could be more sustainable. The production of meat, be it in feed lots or in spacious pastures, requires a lot of space and the larger the livestock is, the more room is required. As societies become more affluent, the demand for meat increases and considering 70 percent of agricultural land worldwide is used for livestock production, it is not feasible to increase conventional meat supply. Cattle are the most land-intensive of the mass-produced livestock and require 260 square meters of land to produce 1 kg of live weight. Pork and chicken are less land-intensive, requiring about 70 square meters to produce 1 kg of live weight for either animal, but crickets only require 40 square meters to produce 1 kg of live weight. Also, if someone were to want to farm their own crickets, they can be contained indoors and even in large plastic storage bins, provided they have adequate bedding and ventilation.
What’s in It for Me?
Crickets are a far more sustainable alternative to farmed mammals, but they’re also more nutritious than most people would think. These insects are small, usually ranging anywhere from 3 to 50 millimeters, but they are not short on protein; in a 100 gram serving of cricket, there is on average 20.5 grams of protein. They are also packed with nutrients including Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium and Vitamin A.
Also, no part of the cricket goes to waste. Livestock is commonly slaughtered to remove all organs and unwanted parts of the animal, where usually only the muscle is sold and consumed. Nothing is removed from the cricket and instead the entire body, and everything in it, is consumed.
Feeling Hungry Yet?
If you’re feeling daring and would like to try consuming crickets whole, but are wondering what to expect, there’s a range of opinions on how exactly they taste. Crickets are said to sometimes taste like whatever they have been fed, such as if they were fed with fish meal, then they will taste slightly fishy. It is also reported that will adopt the taste of whatever they are cooked in, which makes them a great addition to any main course.
For those that are willing to try crickets but aren’t ready to risk having to remove legs or wings from between your teeth afterwards, have no fear; there is a growing market for cricket powder. The powder is just crushed, dry roasted crickets and many protein powders are coming out that have cricket powder in them due to its high protein content. Some brands, like Exo and Naak, also make their own protein bars made from cricket protein.
Cricket powder is a far more convenient and appealing way to consume those nutrient-rich insects than eating them in their pre-crushed form, but cricket consumption in western culture is a very new trend. There’s very limited research to determine if cricket powder is “better” than other protein powders such as whey, soy, pea, casein, or hemp. Also, much of the data on cricket powder and their nutritional benefits is collected by different cricket powder and protein powder brands and has great variations from one study to the next.
One thing that is conclusive is that cricket protein has all nine of the essential amino acids. That is beneficial to know while deciding on different proteins because not every non-meat protein alternative has those amino acids or can compare to the other benefits of the cricket, such as the high fiber content.
It is not common (yet) for grocery stores in the U.S. to carry dry roasted crickets or cricket powder, but numerous options are available online. On Amazon.com prices on these products vary greatly from $2.52 to $9.69 an ounce for pure cricket protein powder. That said, depending on the brand, cricket powder can get very expensive and there is little data to prove if it is a better option than other powders, such as Garden of Life’s 17.4 oz. Protein and Veggie powder that has all nine amino acids, is enriched and retails for $25.99. Exo and Naak’s cricket protein bars can be bought in bulk; a 12 pack of Exo bars retails for $36 and a 12 pack of Naak bars retails for $39.99, which can also be considered expensive by people who do not frequently consume protein bars.
So, Is It Worth It?
Making the decision to start consuming crickets really depends on a person’s current diet and how they stand financially. If a person is a frequent meat eater then, considering the available data, it is surely worth it to switch to eating crickets or cricket powder, or to at least substitute some meals with crickets rather than mammals or pork. The meat eater would receive the same health benefits, and would probably spend the same amount of money, if not just a little more, on purchasing this meat over their usual meat. Also, the meat eater would substantially cut down on their indirect resource consumption accompanying their diets.
On the other hand, for people who do not or rarely eat meat, it is most likely not worth it. It is possible to meet our dietary needs without consuming animal products, and many meat alternatives are comparable in nutrients and generally less expensive. Further, the non-meat eater or infrequent consumer of meat would be contributing to greater indirect resource consumption if they were to integrate crickets into a diet that is primarily plant based.
So, if you are willing to substitute some of your commonly consumed meat for crickets and can financially swing it, then give it a try. It may become one of your favorite dishes and it may not be long before edible insects find their way into western culture.