Eating Bugs

Chef Cookie Martinez with her Cricket Brittle.jpg

Eat Bugs – It’s the new super food. But, is it really?
Meal worms? Why are we eating the creepy crawlies?

A quick Google search will reveal a few places where you can find bugs to eat. But, what you'll also find is a 2013 UN report Edible Insects: Food and Feed Security that states that eating bugs is a healthier bet than eating red meat. As per the report two billion people in the world already consume bugs and that there are about 1,900 species of edible insects.

Several communities in Mexico, China, Africa and India already consume bugs as they are part of the environment. “Some cultures consume insects because they have them in abundance. It’s like ‘eat whatever you can hunt’. I’m trying to get Westerners to eat bugs since the 80s and they are finally responding,” says David George Gordon, popularly known as The Bug Chef. Apart from this, farming is a Western concept. In several regions, it's difficult to farm either due to lack of resources or shortage of water. 

In Toronto, owner and chef Natalia of Colombian Street Food at Dundas West, fries Cricket Empanadas and packs up a Cricket Brittle. She says that crickets are rich in protein and simple to cook. Martinez began cooking with crickets when Future Food Salon, a group she is part of, began making people aware about the benefits of eating insects. Martinez whipped up a seven-course meal made with insects and served it to adventurous guests who were hungry not just for a good meal, but also seeked some knowledge on the affair of eating bugs. 

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The benefits of eating bugs though, are several. The UN report states that consuming insects helps save water. Cricket farmer Jarrod Goldin of Entomo Farms in Norwood, Ontario explains, "Crickets have a lot of protein and so does a steak. But, farming cattle is much harder.” It takes 22,000 litres of water and 10,000 grams of feed to rear cattle. Chicken requires 2,300 litres of water and 2,500 grams of feed to be reared. While in comparison, crickets use less than a litre of water and 1,700 grams of feed is sufficient for them. Goldin adds that if a family of four began consuming crickets once a week for a year, they would save the world 650,000 litres of water.

What's more?

Insects also feed on waste materials. Jakub Dzamba, who farms crickets in his basement-level garage, feeds chicken stock to his crickets. Dzamba who had previously built a counter-top reactor so that people could farm crickets on their kitchen counter-tops, has fed any kind of food waste generated from the kitchen. Insects can be consumed by humans for food and also by animals that humans raise for food. And, as insect farming is a type of farming that requires fewer resources and almost zero labour, it can be carried out as an alternative means of farming by women in the family.

The benefits of eating insects aren't simply limited to improving the environment. Several reports indicate that if rural communities are encouraged to eat insects more than they already consume, this could perhaps help solve food hunger.

Counter-top Reactor by Jakub Dzamba.jpg

One such example was reported by BBC. In Burkina Faso in Africa, where the Shea Caterpillar is consumed for nutrition, as malnourishment and starvation is prevalent. Kahitouo Hien who lives in Ouagadougou is an agrochemist and an entrepreneur; and now is the CEO of Faso Pro. His company has organized people in rural areas to collect these caterpillars which are high in protein, vitamin and iron.  

Despite the benefits, Dzamba says, "once people can afford meats like chicken, fish or beef, they stop consuming bugs. It's been studied that this is because of status as consuming bugs is considered for the poor.” While Gordon is also of the same view, his cooking workshops have helped make 'eating bugs' trendy. Martinez too has read through several recipes by Gordon, who cooks with scorpions, beetles and whatnot, but she has limited herself to cooking with crickets, grasshoppers and meal worms. 

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As more people crave for the crawly superfoods, chefs are experimenting. You'll find cricket chips, cookies made with cricket flour, Bolognese sauce made with meal worms, hot dogs and tacos topped with crunchy crickets and fried grasshoppers as bar snacks. Gordon says that most of these generally taste nutty and it's hard not to get addicted to them. Western chefs are also coming up with foods that their clients can ease into like cricket granola bars, chocolate-dipped mealworms and more.