Why Eating Insects Makes Sense

CricketI’m grateful to have our friend Gabi Lewis, founder of Exo, pen today’s guest post. Exo is running a Kickstarter campaign to bring an insect protein bar to market. Learn more and donate here. (Full disclosure: I’m exploring the possibility of becoming an investor myself.) Enter Gabi…

It’s a safe bet to assume that insects don’t feature prominently on your current menu. My aim in this post is to convince you that they absolutely should. Whether your goal is to most accurately replicate an ancestral diet, minimize the ecological impact of your food consumption, or simply optimize your own performance, eating insects just makes sense.

While it has gained renewed attention recently1, entomophagy – the consumption of insects – is nothing new. In fact, as eclectic omnivores, it’s likely that we’ve consumed insects, the most abundant terrestrial life form excluding bacteria, for an exceedingly long time. Evidence that our earliest ancestors ate insects includes analyses of fossilized feces from caves and the fact that all extant nonhuman primates are insectivorous2. Fast forward a few million years and Aristotle’s brain-food of choice was cicadas (packed with omega-3 fatty acids). Today, 80% of the world still eats over 1,600 species of insects, from Jing Leed in Thailand to Escamoles in Mexico to Casu Marzu in Italy. Deeply rooted in our history as a species, entomophagy is as primal as cave painting in a loin cloth (more so actually, since it predates tools).

There are additional convincing arguments for embracing entomophagy. Insects are exceptionally nutritious. They contain up to 91% protein by dry weight3 with amino acid compositions that are superior to most alternatives4. They are an excellent source of fat and are high in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid and linolenic acid5. Insects also tend to be high in micronutrients such as B-vitamins, beta-carotene, and vitamin E6. Crickets, for example, contain substantially more iron than beef. Considered purely from a nutritional perspective, eating insects is a no-brainer. There is even some evidence linking a departure from entomophagy in rural Mexico to the deteriorations in health of those concerned7.

Coupled with the health benefits of entomophagy are the environmental ones. The negative impact that livestock has on our planet is well documented; it accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than emissions from cars, trains, and planes combined8. As our population grows, these problems will only get worse. Insect protein, however, is uniquely sustainable for a number of reasons. First, insects are poikilothermic, meaning that they can match their internal body temperatures to the external environment and consequently exert less energy (meaning less feed) maintaining their body temperatures than their warm-blooded counterparts9. As well as requiring little feed, insects require barely any water. It takes 3,290 liters of water to produce 150g of beef, but virtually none to produce 150g of grasshopper protein10. Insects also have greater reproductive thrust than conventional livestock; a single female cricket can lay 1,500 eggs in four weeks11. For all these reasons, it’s estimated that Acheta Domestica (house cricket) is twenty times more efficient as a source of protein than cattle12.

I’ve outlined strictly rational arguments for entomophagy, but it would be naïve to ignore the cultural taboo that exists. In his 1885 manifesto, Why Not Eat Insects?, Vincent Holt worried that “it may require a strong effort of will to reason ourselves out of the stupid prejudices that have stood in our way for ages.” He found a theoretical solution in the idea that “fashion is the most powerful motive in the world,” and there are historical precedents to support this. Americans and Europeans considered sushi repulsive until an enterprising chef in LA replaced Toro with avocado and created the inside-out California Roll (disguising the raw fish inside). It spread from Hollywood to the rest of the country and on to Europe. Thirty years ago we would have viewed a plate of sashimi with revulsion; now most of us are willing to spend big bucks to get it.

We’re already starting to see fashion serve as a motive for behavioral change. Some of the world’s best restaurants regularly feature insects on their menu. Noma, located in Copenhagen and ranked the number one restaurant in the world for three years, has served a fermented cricket soy sauce, and its experimental arm, Nordic Food Lab, recently received at 3.6 million Kronor grant to explore gourmet entomophagy13. Inventions are appearing for raising your own edible insects at home14. There’s even talk of using insect protein for space travel and habitation15. My own company, Exo, launched a crowdfunding campaign yesterday. By creating protein bars made with cricket flour (slow roasted and finely ground crickets), we hope to create a vehicle to introduce entomophagy to the West – a kind of California Roll of insects.

It has been hypothesized that the West’s aversion to entomophagy comes from a subconscious desire to disassociate from our hunter-gatherer ancestors16. It is obvious, however, that to optimize human performance, we are well served by returning to practices that have, for thousands of years, influenced our genetic makeup. The Primal health community is built upon the intelligent and gradual reclamation of these practices, and entomophagy is the next step in the process. By overcoming our conditioned biases and utilizing insects as a more ecologically efficient protein source, we can shift eating patterns in a direction that is healthier for humans and better for the planet.

Exo Bar

Exo launched a Kickstarter campaign on July 29th, with a goal of raising $20,000. Exo’s first protein bar, formulated with a three Michelin Star chef, contains cricket flour, almonds, dates, coconut, raw cacao, honey and sea salt. Support Exo here.

1Should We Eat More Insects? The U.N. Thinks So.

2Ramos-Elorduy B., (2009), The importance of edible insects in the nutrition and economy of people of the rural areas of Mexico. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 36: 347-366.

3Bukkens SGF., (2005). Insects in the human diet. Ecological Implications of Minilivestock: Potential of Insects, Rodents, Frogs and Snails, 545–77.

4DeFoliart, G.R., (2002). The human Use of Insects as a Food Resource: A Bibliographic Account in Progress.

5Yang LF, Siriamornpun S, Li D., (2006). Polyunsaturated fatty acid content of edible insects in Thailand. J. Food Lipids 13(3):277–85.

6Banjo, A.D., Lawal, O.A., Songonuga, E.A., (2006). The nutritional value of fourteen species of edible insects in southwestern Nigeria. African Journal of Biotechnology, 5:298–301.

7Ramos-Elorduy, J., (1997). Insects: A sustainable source of food? Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 36: 247-27.

8Livestock a major threat to environment

9Lindroth, R.L., (1993). Food conversion efficiencies of insect herbivores. Food Insects Newsletter, 6: 9–11.

10Walsh, Bryan, (2008). Eating Bugs. Time.

11Capinera, J. L., (2004). Encyclopedia of Entomology. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

12Nakagaki, B.J,, DeFoliart, G.R., (1991). Comparison of diets for mass-rearing Acheta domesticus (Orthoptera: Gryllidae) as a novelty food, and comparison of food conversion efficiency with values reported for livestock. Journal of Economical Entomology, 84:891–6.

13Major funding awarded for edible insect research in Denmark

14Raise Your Own Edible Bugs With This Decorative Kitchen Pod

15Katayama, N., Yamashita, M., Kishida, Y., Liu, C., Watanabe, I. Wada, H., (2008). Azolla as a component of the space diet during habitation on Mars. Acta Astronautica, 63: 1093-1099.

16Vane-Wright RI., (1991). Why not eat insects? Bulletin of. Entomological Research. 81:1–4.

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