Edible insects might be the newest breakfast trend most North Americans living above Mexico have never heard of. Dozens—if not hundreds—of cricket and mealworm farms have cropped up across the United States. If even the idea of stocking grocery store shelves with bugs makes you gulp back disgust, consider that the UN predicts that by 2050, we’ll need to increase our current food production by 70 percent in order to feed over nine billion people living on the planet. Raising insects requires far fewer natural resources than raising beef or other livestock, and they emit significantly less greenhouse gases. Adding insects to our diets might one day not only be a choice, but a necessity, and even global change-makers such as Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, and Angelina Jolie have espoused them as a solution for long-term food security.
Aside from being sustainable, insects are healthy. According to Little Herds, a nonprofit that educates young students about using insects as food, crickets not also have roughly the same amount of protein as chicken, beef, and pork, but they also have a much higher content of vitamins, minerals, and all nine essential amino acids. In short, eating crickets for breakfast can help jumpstart a person’s day, and proponents of entomophagy, or the human use of insects as food, are banking on it.
Some edible insects aficionados believe that they can make insects more palatable to bug-phobic consumers by hiding them in some of the products that we already eat for breakfast. “Many people want food that doesn’t have crickets jumping out at them,” says Robyn Shapiro, founder of New York City-based SEEK Foods, a brand that offers cricket products to the American market. “There’s an initial fear in trying something new, but early adopters who eat cricket products understand that crickets have a lot of protein, and they want to treat food as fuel.”
A two-ounce serving of SEEK Food’s cinnamon almond crunch granola, for example, contains eight grams of protein derived from ground cricket powder, and comes in a waterproof rice paper bag that allows people to just add yogurt or milk and then have their breakfast on the go.
“Crickets are earthy and nutty,” says Shapiro, “which makes them good to pair with nuts in granola. Our products are tasty and the branding resonates with people, so [our customers] become open to trying new things.”
Jarrod Goldin, co-founder of Entomo Farms, a farm in Ontario, Canada that raises crickets and mealworms, agrees that a relatively easy place to start incorporating insects is by adding powders into breakfast foods: “Pancakes in the morning, which aren’t usually filled with protein and fiber, can become healthy by adding a couple tablespoons of cricket powder. Then you not only have protein and fiber, but also a lot of iron, B12, calcium, magnesium, and prebiotic fiber. Things made from cricket powder usually look the same and taste the same, but they’re arguably healthier.”
Goldin also recommends finishing scrambled eggs, “with a pinch of salt, pepper, and ground crickets.”
For those among us who prefer a fruitier breakfast, Aketta, a cricket farm and manufacturer in Austin, Texas, includes recipes on its website for a few perfect, easy breakfast items, including a strawberry-banana and maca smoothie and a crispy cricket and avocado smash on toast.
Although the idea of eating products made from what Shapiro calls a “future food” might still seems strange, consider the fact that two billion people—or about 30 percent of the global population—around the world are already eating them on the regular.
Aly Moore, founder of EatBugsEvents, an edible insects events and brand-building business based in Los Angeles, California, spoke earlier this fall at the first ever Brooklyn Bugs festival in New York to a room packed full of people who have an interest in entomophagy. First adopters in the United States and Canada, she said, worked in cryptocurrency trading, or they were “mommy bloggers and chefs who seem to be leading the public charge.”
Moore believes, however, that the industry is becoming more popular, and will continue to do so as insects become more accessible to the market. When this happens, she thinks there will be a “ripple effect that will get more people to incorporate [insects] into their everyday lives.”
Shapiro agrees: “Our cultural aversion will fade away soon,” which she believes is largely due to media coverage of the movement. If exoskeletons offend you, then ask yourself: Is the eating of insects for breakfast any stranger than diving into heaping plates of shrimp and grits? Shrimp are crustaceans, but just like crickets, they’re also arthropods.
How big the insect-eating movement will become in the United States and Canada is anyone’s guess, although it’s pretty clear the idea has legs. “We’re at the edge of a paradigm shift,” says Goldin. “2018 will be a game changer.”