Fish and chirps? Crick­ets make leap in de­mand as a pro­tein

Malta Independent - - FOOD -

At To­mor­row's Har­vest farm, you won't find acres of land on which an­i­mals graze, or rows of corn, or bales of hay. Just stacks of boxes in a base­ment and the sum­mery song of thou­sands of chirp­ing crick­ets.

It's one of a grow­ing num­ber of op­er­a­tions rais­ing crick­ets for hu­man con­sump­tion that these farm­ers say is more eco­log­i­cally sound than meat but ac­knowl­edge is sure to bug some peo­ple out.

Once con­sumers get be­yond the ick fac­tor, they say, there are a lot of ben­e­fits to con­sum­ing bugs.

"We don't need every­body to eat in­sects," said Robert Nathan Allen, founder and di­rec­tor of Lit­tle Herds, an ed­u­ca­tional non­profit in Austin, Texas, that pro­motes the use of in­sects for hu­man food and an­i­mal feed. "The point we re­ally like to high­light with the ed­u­ca­tion is that if only a small per­cent of peo­ple add this to their diet, there's a huge en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact."

Cricket fans say if only 1 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion sub­sti­tuted even just 1 per­cent of their meat con­sump­tion with in­sects, mil­lions of gal­lons of wa­ter in drink­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion would be saved, along with thou­sands of met­ric tons of green­house-gas emis­sions from ma­chin­ery and an­i­mals.

At least one study finds the claims over­stated that crick­ets are a vi­able pro­tein source to sup­ple­ment or re­place meat, but bot­tom line, it gen­er­ally takes fewer re­sources to raise and har­vest crick­ets than, say, cat­tle.

In­ter­est in en­to­mophagy — the con­sump­tion of in­sects — was fu­eled in part by a 2013 re­port from the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions on the vi­a­bil­ity of ed­i­ble in­sects to help curb world hunger.

Since then, the num­ber of pro­duc­ers of food con­tain­ing crick­ets, from pro­tein bars to chip, has jumped from zero to about 20, and cricket farms for hu­man food have grown to about half a dozen in the United States, Allen said.

The pro­tein-packed food can be ground into pow­der and added to other foods or eaten whole, dried, sauteed and spiced. Crick­ets have a nutty or earthy fla­vor that's masked by other fla­vors in pro­tein bars.

Self-de­scribed ad­ven­tur­ous eater Matthew Mon­roe, 53, of Port­land, Ore­gon, said he's fond of blue­berry-vanilla Exo bars con­tain­ing cricket flour and dines on them when he gets that "pro­tein bar jonesing feel­ing." They also taste bet­ter than other pro­tein bars, he said.

There's no prob­lem sell­ing crick­ets as long as man­u­fac­tur­ers en­sure the food they pro­duce for the U.S. mar­ket is safe and com­plies with all rel­e­vant laws and Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing proper la­bel­ing.

Rais­ing crick­ets doesn't take much space, but there are com­plex­i­ties.

Stephen Swan­son, pro­pri­etor of To­mor­row's Har­vest, said he con­stantly checks con­di­tions — wa­ter, food, tem­per­a­ture, air flow and hu­mid­ity — in the base­ment where he's rais­ing roughly half a mil­lion crick­ets.

Swan­son, who just started sell­ing cricket pro­tein pow­der on­line, hopes to get into a ware­house where some of the work could be au­to­mated.

"The sky's the limit. This is the stone age right now as far as in­sect farm­ing," he said. "So we have nowhere to go but up."

Kevin Bach­hu­ber knows that first­hand. He started the first U.S. cricket farm for hu­man food in the Youngstown, Ohio, area, ac­cord­ing to Allen. It op­er­ated un­til lead in his wa­ter sup­ply prompted him to close it, Bach­hu­ber said.

Now, Bach­hu­ber said, he is help­ing new cricket farm­ers get started or ex­ist­ing farms that raise crick­ets for rep­tile feed and fish bait get up to food grade stan­dards.

"For the first cou­ple years, you know, we al­ways strug­gled with hav­ing enough sup­ply. Now that we're start­ing to be able to add some of these older farm­ers into our sup­ply chain . ... It's not quite so heavy pres­sure," Bach­hu­ber said.

The first U.S. aca­demic con­fer­ence de­voted to in­sects for food and feed was held in Detroit in May. Now the young in­dus­try is form­ing a trade group with the pri­or­i­ties be­ing re­search and pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

"Half the bat­tle if not more is ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple why. You can't just say eat crick­ets, please. You have to tell them why," Swan­son said.

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