Crickets: the food of the future. Healthy, sustainable and exotic–what’s not to love?
This may come as a shock to some, but many people have recently begun developing this concept in the western world–one of the only places on earth where eating insects is not widely accepted. Little Herds is a non-profit created in Austin that educates the public about entomophagy, the practice of eating insects.
Once you get over the initial shock and gross factor, the logical reasons for cricket consumption become surprisingly compelling.
Founded in June 2013 by Robert Nathan Allen after his mom sent him a video about bug eating as a joke, Little Herds has seen success introducing this practice to Austin. In its first year alone, the organization participated in 40 events, including those hosted at schools, children’s museums and farmer’s markets.
Growing Herd of Austin Bug Eaters
Little Herds may be spearheading the entomophagy movement in Austin, but this organization is not the only one interested in developing insects as a food source. Allen was invited to join the company Aspire Food Group, which makes “Aketta,” a cricket powder produced solely for consumption. The powder is sold at in.gredients on Manor Road, as are all-natural energy bars made by Hopper Foods, which utilizes cricket powder in their recipe.
I got to meet Allen, as well as Little Herds’ new executive director Dan Von Pasecky and CEO/Founder of Hopper Foods Jack Ceadel, at an event hosted by in.gredients for Colgate University students on a trip to study sustainable food in Austin.
Ceadel immediately offered me an energy bar—Berry and Pistachio—clearly labeled “with cricket flour” on the front. Surprised by the lack of fanfare, I took a bite without getting worked up about it. As one who does not typically eat energy bars, I was pleased by its fresh and complex taste. As for the crickets—nothing stood out as particularly insecty in flavor, for which I was also pleased. Apparently, crickets taste differently depending on their diet. For instance, if they are fed high levels of mint, they will retain this flavor in a dish.
Crickets Are the New Sushi
Ceadel is an advocate of starting the bug eating movement with crickets and cricket powder in particular. He says people’s greatest fear is getting the bugs stuck in their teeth, but this would never happen with Hopper’s energy bars. Why are crickets a good place to start? According to Ceadel, “Crickets aren’t exactly sexy, but they’re sexier than a worm or cockroach.”
Von Pasecky explained that cricket powder is a bottom-up approach, designed to disassociate consumers from their cultural aversion to bugs.
Another means of changing the masses’ minds about insects, however, is a top-down approach: make insects seem exotic and desirable. An example of this method, Pasecky says, is sushi. In the past, raw fish was seen as dangerous to eat and distasteful to most Americans. Its reputation slowly changed as prominent chefs began featuring it. Now sushi is generally considered a popular and high-end meal.
Austin chefs have jumped on Little Herds’ insect train. Sonya Cote of Hillside Farmacy made cricket polenta at Future Food Salon ATX, where an insect-inspired gathering attracted artists, chefs and musicians alike. Peter Yung of How Do You Roll? even made a sushi roll involving mealworms and crickets. Allen believes this aspect of the movement is important—people trust the chefs at their favorite restaurants and are more likely to try something different made by these professionals.
Bugs Have the Power to Feed the World
So how exactly could a bug—which we are conditioned to revile—be healthy to eat? According to the Hopper Foods website, crickets are rich in amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids and micronutrients like zinc, iron magnesium, calcium, and vitamins B6 and B12. They provide useful nutrients to a meal while remaining more efficient to farm. While cows provide 10 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of protein, crickets only need 2 pounds to produce the same amount of protein. Likewise, they need less water, less space and produce significantly lower amounts of methane gas.
Little Herds’ primary function is to educate. However, children do not need much convincing. Many times, children come right up to the table at events and immediately stick their hands into a bowl of prepared insect snacks, much to the chagrin of their parents. This is when Allen, Von Pasecky or another representative calms the parents and educates them about the benefits of entomophagy.
Learning to Consume Crickets
Interestingly, Von Pasecky was a vegetarian before he became involved with Little Herds. Ceadel and Allen attempted to come up with a title for his new diet—Insecto-vegetarian? Vegetarian Plus? All jokes aside, it’s clear that entomophagy is a serious movement. Many predict it will only grow stronger in the future, as bugs become a trendy health food or even a solution to world hunger.
Ceadel encapsulated the industry nicely when he said, “It’s a marketing dream: there are so many reasons for it and the only reason against it is psychological.”
Would you eat bugs? You might as well stay one step ahead of your foodie friends and give it a try.
@erinmayyyy wants to know:
What do you think of the entomophagy movement in Austin?