Cricket Flour

IMG_1784I was running errands in town today, and called in to Bin Inn for some flour and cornmeal.

I was excited to find this sitting on the shelf next to the rice flour and barley flour. It was the first time I’ve seen commercial insect products that admit to being insect products sold in an ordinary store (there are plenty of things you’ve probably bought that contain insect products, but manufacturers generally don’t advertise that).

It’s nice to see insects showing up on the grocery store shelves. I am a proponent of entomophagy, even though I am a vegetarian. If you’re going to eat meat, insects are probably the most environmentally sound way to go.

Being cold-blooded, insects convert feed into body mass much more efficiently than our warm-blooded livestock. You can raise a kilo of crickets on just 1.7 kilos of feed. Compare that to chicken at 2.5 kg of feed per kilo of chicken, or cows at 10 kg of feed per kilo of cow. Adjust these numbers for percentage of the animal that’s edible, and they favour insects even more—80 percent of a cricket is edible, whereas only 55 percent of a chicken and 40 percent of a cow is.

It still takes resources to produce insects. Though they convert feed into food more efficiently, insects need to be kept warm—warmer than you need to keep a cow, because they can’t keep their own bodies warm. There is an energy cost in that.

Of course the biggest problem with farming insects is getting people in Western countries to eat them. Most of the world’s people actually do eat insects, but our modern Western culture had separated us so much from our food, that we even get squeamish when we can identify the animal that our cuts of meat came from.

Consumers generally don’t want to actually see the animal when they’re preparing dinner. I’m sure cricket flour goes over better than, say pickled whole crickets (sort of like sliced ham vs. pickled pigs feet).

It will take a change in our attitude toward insects before Westerners will agree to bar nuts that include roast, salted crickets (which are delicious, by the way). When preschoolers learn that a cricket says “chirp, chirp” along with the cow says “moo”, we’ll be on our way. When we begin to view insects, not as enemies to be beaten, but as fellow organisms on Earth, we’ll be on our way. When we stop seeing insects as dirty, but rather recognise that they carry fewer potential human pathogens than our close relatives the cow and pig, we’ll be on our way.

As a vegetarian and a gardener, I value the insects that come into the kitchen on my vegetables. I don’t get enough vitamin B12, because it is only found in animal products. Insects are full of vitamin B12. So, I’m casual about cleaning the insects off our organically grown vegetables. We eat a lot of aphids, and quite a few caterpillars, I’m sure. And that’s great—it gives us all the nutrition we need, without any extra effort on our part (less, in fact).

Indeed, though I support insect farming, I’m afraid I will probably never buy any insect products–there are so many wonderful insects out there free for the taking, I couldn’t see spending $120 per kilo (and that’s half off!) for cricket flour.

Besides, I prefer my crickets whole—the best part about them is the crunch, after all.

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