It’s the time when New Year’s resolutions have us on our best behavior. For some people, that’s January with no booze. For others it’s showing up at the gym. And for a growing number of people, it means eating insects.
What? Yes, insects. Why? Generally, people say they do it for their health and to try to save the planet.
Crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers pack a lot of protein and minerals, and take far fewer resources to produce than animal meat. Insects are popular in other parts of the world, and they are eaten by an estimated 2 billion people. They are sometimes a fine dining experience in countries such as Mexico and Thailand, where they have been a staple for centuries.
The problem for the entomophagy (humans eating insects) movement in the United States is that a lot of people think it is gross. But there are signs that bug eating is making inroads into the U.S. diet, including in Seattle, where toasted grasshoppers regularly sell out at Mariners games. Some adventurous New York chefs are developing insect recipes, and you can get packaged edible insects (one brand is called Chirps) delivered to your door. Personal technology is also getting on board: A popular health and fitness app recently added insect nutritional information to its diet plan so you can track your bug consumption.
The Lifesum app also has a suggested bug recipe (grasshopper tacos). It’s the same app that was on the forefront of the eco-health trend plogging, allowing its members to track calories burned as they jog and pick up trash.
The company is trying to do the same with insect eating, basically hoping to nudge people toward something that’s good for the Earth, if they can stomach it. Insect farming produces 1 percent of the greenhouses gasses as the same amount of cattle or pigs, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“We’re always on the lookout to figure out what’s happening in the world of food,” said Lifesum CEO and co-founder Henrik Torstensson.
“We’re trying to do something that’s interesting and not just rudimentary.”
Lifesum says it has 30 million users, the majority of them in the United States. Early results show that people are starting to use the insect part of the app slowly. The company wouldn’t release exact numbers, but said most are young women in urban areas who are incorporating some insect eating into their diet. Torstensson likens it to being a vegetarian 20 years ago.
“Eating insects is much bigger outside of the Western world, it taps into mega trends in food and health,” he said. “If you go back 20 years to the mid-90s, if you were a vegetarian it was seen as something unusual. It has similarities to this.”
According to people who eat insects, the gateway bug is crickets, often in powder form. Then comes eating whole bugs, exoskeleton and all. In a 2017 interview with the BBC, Angelina Jolie can be seen with her children cooking and eating a tarantula and some bugs in Cambodia, a moment that was celebrated by bug-eating enthusiasts.
The powder can be added to most foods, cooked or raw, and helps people get over the ick factor of eating a formerly living being that looks like a little alien.
“If I told myself in middle school I’d be eating bugs I probably would have screamed,” said Joy Nemerson, 24, an insect-eating enthusiast who lives in New Haven, Conn.
Now, she tries to cook with bugs about twice a week.
“It’s a large part of my identity,” she said.
The week before Thanksgiving, she attended what she called a “BugsGiving” in Brooklyn, co-hosted by edible bug advocate and chef Joseph Yoon, who cooked a 10-course meal using bugs in each course. Nemerson said she has tried to spread the bug way of life, including a favorite recipe she makes for friends and family, which is a three-layer pizza with cricket powder in the dough and red sauce, and mealworms on top. She also works cricket powder into her recipe for cinnamon rolls (hop cross buns). She said the powder doesn’t have much taste, perhaps a slight earthy flavor, but it packs a lot of protein.
“Once you get into it, it’s pretty easy,” she said. “For me, the coolest thing about eating bugs is that evolutionarily, it makes a lot of sense. If you believe we came from monkeys, monkeys eat a lot of bugs.”
She said it does take some getting used to — eating whole crickets and grasshoppers — because of the crunch. As flavors, she describes crickets as tasting nutty, grasshoppers as smoky, caterpillars as similar to chicken, ants as lemony and ant eggs as tangy.
She said she doesn’t use the Lifesum app, but she’s familiar with Entomo Farms, the Canadian bug farm that has partnered with Lifesum. The farm raises about 100 million free-range crickets every six weeks in facilities they call condos. They also farm mealworms.
President Jarrod Goldin said the crickets they farm have a natural six-week life cycle, and are harvested at the end of that cycle. He sees a big future for insect eating, calling the practice “the planet’s most sustainable food source,” and saying that as time passes, consumers care more and more about where their food comes from and its impact on the environment and their health.
“The way consumers are looking at food is changing,” he said. “They’re looking at data, which drives health and wellness, it drives consumers to look at the nutrition profile of the food they are going to eat.”
Goldin, who is in business with his brother, said he doesn’t just raise insects as the family business — he and his family eat them with gusto, every day. He credits the crickets in his diet with what he describes as better energy and gut function. His family will often start the morning with a cricket powder soy milk smoothie.
“My wife does most of the cooking in the family,” he said. “If she is baking muffins or chocolate chip cookies, she’ll throw in cricket powder. Almost the way you use salt. You can put a pinch of salt in anything.”
In fact, a pepper grinder filled with roasted crickets sits on his dining room table so anyone can add an extra hit of cricket powder to a meal.
He said his family also snacks on whole seasoned roasted crickets by the dozens, and his school-aged nephew has an interesting habit in the morning: If he is eating a bowl of cereal like Rice Krispies, he’ll drop whole crickets in there with the milk for added crunch and protein.
Goldin argues that there’s nothing unsavory about it.
“Yucky food is unhealthy food,” he said. “Food that promotes wellness is the opposite of yucky.”