On April 1, a mix of professors, St. Louis residents, and students joined the Office of Sustainability and student group Net Impact in their kickoff event for Earth Week. The event was aptly called “Can Edible Insects Sustain the World?” and brought in Sarah Schlafly, co-founder of Mighty Cricket (local cricket-product company) to talk about insects and their role in sustainable eating.
Mighty Cricket is a local startup aimed to shake up the food industry in St. Louis by selling something unusual– cricket powder. Co-founders Sarah Schlafly and Adam Kronk, a WashU alum, created Mighty Cricket in the summer of 2018 to provide an alternative and sustainable protein source in our current meat-heavy market.
If the idea of eating a cricket in its raw form sounds unappealing, don’t worry. Mighty Cricket offers more palatable choices for consumers including protein powder, oatmeal, and waffle mix. Sarah hopes that by growing an innovative brand from the ground up in her hometown, Saint Louis can embrace being an early leader of the sustainable protein movement as a source of pride.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF EDIBLE INSECTS
In line with the education provided by the Green Monday campaign, Sarah Schlafly explained the environmental impacts of eating bugs. Based on her presentation, insects are incredibly efficient sources of food, requiring much less space, water, and feed to produce than most other animal proteins. Crickets, for example, can produce 40 times more protein than beef for every 100 gallons of water used!
While ‘edible insects’ and ‘health food’ might not seem like a natural pairing, they actually pack quite a punch when it comes to nutrition. According to Schlafly, crickets contain “more complete protein than beef, iron than spinach, calcium than milk, fiber than peas, and have as many omega-3s as salmon.”
In her talk, Sarah also explained how she hopes that edible insects can help further food equity and food access. Because of their ease of production and high nutritional values, she predicts that crickets will be able to feed more people at a lower cost.
CULTURAL SHIFT AND PALATE EDUCATION
As the race to feed a growing global population intensifies, bugs may finally be finding their place at the table in Western societies. Eating insects, however, is not a new concept for many cultures. Currently, over 2 billion people eat bugs.
In Korea, people eat bbun-dae-gi, boiled silkworm pupae as a street snack. Mexico often serves mezcal, a smoky tequila, with an insect larvae inside the bottle. In total, humans around the world consume over 2,000 types of insects including beetles, larvae, wasps, ants, and – of course – crickets!
When asking students what they thought of the cricket food offerings at the event (platter of sugar cookies dusted with cricket powder, cricket mango smoothie, and cricket hummus), most were quite pleased that the food tasted “normal.” Veda Bhadharla (’20) said, “The food tasted a little earthier, I think? I’m not sure, it could just be a mindset thing. I’m glad the crickets were in a powder form though, I can’t imagine eating whole crickets with their eyes just staring at me.”
NEED FOR ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF PROTEIN
Where do edible insects fit into our current food system and why should we care?
According to the Eat Lancet Commission report, which was released this spring, a radical shift in our food system is necessary to ensure human and environmental health can be sustained against the backdrop of population growth and climate change. Poor diets make up the largest global burden of disease and agriculture systems have been identified as the number one driver of climate changes.
Alternative protein sources, like insects, can be a powerful tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the animal agriculture industry and also have the potential to positively impact human health. So while eating insects may seem like a strange concept to most of us, should it be? After all, aren’t crustaceans called the “insects of the sea?” Looking to the future, should we start incorporating more insects into our diets? Only time will tell.
[Daun Lee and Mary Kate Cartmill opening the the event]