Food Sunday: Jiminy Cricket!
There are way more bugs than people on earth (and way more microbes in our body than human cells, but that’s another story). Bugs and grubs are protein rich and plentiful, and use far fewer resources to produce protein than say, an Angus steer. While most of the world, a whopping 80% of Earth’s population, noshes on our six-legged friends and their larvae, we Americans and Europeans react with a certain ugh factor. I remember when I lived in Barrington Hall, UC Berkeley’s most notorious student housing project, we had a resident doctoral student in entomology, Doug the Bug Man, who every semester would cook larvae cakes, toast crickets, and roast grasshoppers. I think there were also chocolate covered ants involved, but most of us couldn’t deal with the idea, even the really stoned residents with the munchies. (He also gave demos on cockroaches as the perfect survivor, but this is a post about food, not the food drive of la cucaracha).
Years later, at Guelaguetza, one of Los Angeles’ most authentic Oaxacan restaurants (delicious molés, and hard to find items like goat spine), my Spanglish couldn’t translate the empanadas’ stuffing, so we ordered them. A bite confirmed that chapulínes were not cheese curds. Or seeds. Finding a leg confirmed it. One of us asked the waiter:
Are theses crickets?
The handsome tattooed guy laughed, the black-inked teardrop at the side of his eye crinkling:
No man, grasshoppers!
Heaping the guacamole heavily on the last empanada in the pile, our host sighed and said:
Cool, just checking!
before popping the appetizer into his mouth, saving our table from looking totally tragic.
Now a pair of Brown University graduates who live in Brooklyn (of course) have developed a bug bar called Exo which combines raw cacao, dates, almond butter, and coconut with roasted cricket flour. Though it’s clearly not vegetarian, the crickets, supplied by the folks who breed them for reptile food, are presumably ethically farmed, and while not free range, one would hope they are fed non-GMO organic produce. At any rate, crickets require 12x less food than beef and half of what pigs eat to provide the same amount of protein, while obviously using way less water and space than livestock. They are cheap, sustainable and provide complete amino acids, calcium and iron. (Still, bugs! I don’t know if I can get over that.)
While Exo bars are gluten-free and high in omega-3s, if you have shellfish allergies, stay away! Crustaceans and insects are all arthropods and can produce the same allergic reaction. The product arrives on shelves in October. Just in time for Halloween.