I recently invested in some baking supplies. Some high-protein baking supplies. Some chirpy, jumpy, high-protein baking supplies. I bought cricket flour. And I made banana bread. And it was fantastic.
I started my journey into entomophagy gently – with bugs that came pre-ground into flour, which you can then add into your baking projects. Given how well things turned out, I might branch out into bugs that still look like bugs.
The inclusion of insects in human diet is hardly a new idea – in fact, the practice dates back to prehistoric man. A 2013 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that, currently, two billion people worldwide include insects as a food source. Crickets, especially, are a part of modern diets in some countries, and are often included in high cuisine.
Yet, this practice is very slow to be accepted in North America. A few health food lines, like Exo and Chapul, offer cricket-protein bars but by and large, the suggestion of eating bugs either a draws a ‘yes’ for novelty, or a ‘no’ in disgust. We Westerners seem to think the practice is primitive, and certainly don’t include insects on our weekly grocery lists.
I don’t count myself immune from this type of thinking – I bought the flour because I was curious, not because I was making a lifestyle change to my protein sourcing. Once I bought it, though, I started reading. And I learned that there’s more to eating bugs than impressing your friends. The real benefits to including insects in our food pyramid are three-fold: Health, Environmental, and Socio-Economic.
After visiting Next Millennium Farms (local for those of you in southwestern Ontario), resident Precision Nutrition guru, Krista Scott-Dixon delivered a thoughtful and comprehensive account of bug eating.
Health-wise, her article points out that,
The average insect is around half protein by dry weight, with some insects (such as locusts) up to about 75% protein.
To give perspective, beef is about 16-40% protein, eggs 11-14%, and whey protein isolate 79.5% (from Wikipedia). What that means is that gram for gram, insects Are just as viable a protein source as the animal products we’re used to. And from the FAO report, “Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc”. Many are also a good source of dietary fiber.
What insect proteins lack are a number of the problems that factory-farmed livestock create – which brings us to the environmental benefits. Again, from Precision Nutrition;
Good soil and fresh, clean water are quickly disappearing. Crop diversity is decreasing. Large-scale commercial livestock production is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in world regions where resources are scarce.
Add to that the heavy use of grain feed, hormones, and antibiotics so prevalent in our meat, and bugs begin to look better and better. The FAO’s report tells us that food insects generate far fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia emissions than most livestock, require little land for production, and need little feed, “Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein”. Many insects can be fed on human and animal waste, solving both the issue of land for feed, and the issue of environmental contamination.
Finally, entomography could have a profound effect on the socio-economic factors impacting our world, were we to embrace it. From Precision Nutrition,
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one in six people worldwide will die of hunger and under-nourishment.
Because of the smaller ecological footprint and land needs – and the rising costs associated with livestock farming and ocean fishing – insect farming could become a viable (and cheaper) source of protein than conventionally produced meat and fish. Rearing insects takes a smaller capital investment, no ownership of land, and less technical expertise than other protein farming, as they can be collected from nature. That makes them an accessible option, both as a food source and an income source.
From the FAO’s 2013 “Edible Insects” report,
In developing countries, some of the poorest members of society, such as women and landless dwellers in urban and rural areas, can easily become involved in the gathering, cultivation, processing and sale of insects. These activities can directly improve their own diets and provide cash income through the selling of excess production as street foods.
Because of their nutritional composition, accessibility, simple rearing techniques and quick growth rates, insects can offer a cheap and efficient opportunity to counter nutritional insecurity by providing emergency food and by improving livelihoods and the quality of traditional diets among vulnerable people.
Good for your health, good for the environment, and good for the economy – bugs have got it all!
If I’ve sold you on eating bugs, it’s easy to get started. I had a great experience shopping with Next Millennium Farms. They’re not in business to make a quick buck on a quirky food trend, they believe in their products, and in the power of alternative protein sourcing. Excerpts from their Mission Statement say it all:
To make an important contribution in the feeding of an estimated world population of 9 billion people in 2050.
To create a global awareness of the relevance and socio-political impact of each persons protein carbon footprint.
To provide graded feed alternatives to farmers producing healthier and certifiable organic fish and chicken.
Once you’ve got your flour, try this recipe. It’s freaking delicious!
- 4 medium ripe bananas
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ cups coconut sugar
- ½ cups mild olive oil
- ½ cup cricket flour
- 1 ¾ cups whole grain wheat flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 ½ handfuls of walnut pieces (I also added dark chocolate)
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Grease and flour a loaf pan. Mix bananas, eggs, sugar, and olive oil. Add cricket flour, whole grain wheat flour, and baking powder. Blend together, adding walnut pieces. Bake approx. 1 hour.
I made some for my league, and folks couldn’t get enough. Adding the cricket flour gives the bread a roasty, nutty flavour. If all that’s holding you back is the “ick” factor, give it some thought. Are insects really that different from other proteins? Why not try it out, and then make up your mind.