Monday, April 28, 2014

Meatless Monday: Is it Cricket to Eat Crickets?

Is it Cricket* to Eat Cricket on Meatless Monday?

Technically, “NO,” since the Cricket is in the Gryllidae Family, in the Orthoptera (related to the grasshopper) Order, in the Insecta Class, in the Animalia (animal) Kingdom.

I would argue, however, that the idea of putting insects on our plates is not necessarily in conflict with the goals of the Meatless Monday Movement: to “help reduce meat consumption by 15%, to improve the health of our planet, as well as our personal health.” 

Crickets and other insects are a popular source of protein throughout most of the world — the exceptions being North America and Europe, where the the idea of eating an insect on purpose has a high “Yuck” factor. 

Insects are a highly sustainable source of food. It takes very little food and water to raise a crop. Raising beef requires a tremendous amount of water —  but raising vegetables also consumes a huge amount of this precious resource. Mother Jones published a shocking infographic a few weeks back showing how much water it takes to grow a range of crops from broccoli (5.5 gallons of water/one head) to strawberries (.4 gallons of water/1 berry). 

Insects are also highly nutritious. University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum stated in the article “Why Eating Bugs is Good for You”, “Protein is a big part of their [insects’] value nutritionally, but they also tend to be calorie- and lipid-rich and they are generally good sources of vitamins and minerals…There are ecological and economic benefits, too. [In general] some insects can be raised on foods that aren’t consumed by humans and rearing insects tends to produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Entomophagy is a small but growing movement in the US. I’m not talking about eating insects who’ve wandered into your pantry from who knows where after walking thorough who knows what. I'm talking about upscale dining.

Last year Mark Garrison of NPR’s Marketplace reported on a cocktail event at the Center for Social Innovation in New York. The featured speaker was Aruna Handa, founder of Alimentary Initiatives, who unveiled the company’s prototype of a compact cricket farm, designed to farm 2,500 crickets every 8 weeks. A number of cricket snacks from crickets on skewers to crickets camouflaged in crostini spread were served to patrons. 

Chapul has been experimenting with cricket-based energy bars for several years.

Thanks to my niece Sophie, a sophomore at Harvard, I learned of what is perhaps the newest entry into the Cricket Snack Food Scene.  Three recent Harvard grads formed a company — Six Foods [crickets have 6 legs] — and hired a professional chef to assist them in their Kickstarter Project to raise $30,000 to get their first product “Chirps” chips, in three flavors, to market.  One of the main ingredients of “Chirps” is cricket flour. The three founders: Laura D'Asaro, Meryl Natow, and Rose Wang, hope “to introduce crickets to the American diet, one chip at a time!” 

Watch what the tasters on the street had to say. The reaction from all ages seems to be “Thumbs Up,” even when the secret ingredient is revealed. And the Chirps founders have well passed their goal with 25 days left until the deadline.

While I’m not ready for a cricket farm, I am ready to try these chips. How about you?

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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