Crickets make leap in demand as a protein food

Lisa Rathke
Associated Press
Stephen Swanson shows a bowl of frozen crickets at Tomorrow's Harvest cricket farm in Williston, Vt.. Farmers are raising the alternative livestock they claim is more ecologically sound than meat.

Williston, VT — 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 1percent of the U.S. population substituted even just 1percent 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 chips, 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.