Making The Leap
Are crickets the new bacon? Local advocates explore raising insects for food.
If bacon is the gateway meat for vegetarians, then crickets could just be the gateway bug for omnivores.
While that statement might sound like an insect joke, for people like Wayne State anthropology professor Julie Lesnik and entrepreneur Anthony Hatinger, it’s serious business.
Crickets are a complete protein and a sustainable food source. That’s especially relevant with climate change, scarce land, and nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people around the world.
People in countries like Thailand and Kenya already consume insects. The challenge is how to sell it to the masses in the U.S.
“It’s one thing to tell people, ‘Oh, eat crickets they’re sustainable,’ ” Lesnik says. “It’s another to be like, ‘Here’s a food item you can share with your family.’ ”
To help raise awareness of crickets as food, she organized a bakeoff last spring. WSU student teams competed to find out whose cricket cuisine reigned supreme. The teams came up with baked goods using cricket flour (or more accurately cricket powder).
Sarah Carson and her team emerged victorious with their “The Early Bird Gets the Cricket” muffins (see recipe and Hour Detroit staffers' reviews here). Entries were judged on taste, of course, as well as the student’s pitch from an anthropological perspective.
With a Starbucks seemingly on every corner, their cricket carrot cake muffin fits in perfectly with modern grab-and-go mentality and coffee culture.
Lesnik also plans to host an “Eating Innovation Conference” next year in Detroit. She envisions a three-day international interdisciplinary event to discuss the benefits and current research on insects as food.
Detroit is “well suited for bringing in this conversation,” Lesnik says, especially because of existing local sustainability/urban agriculture efforts and a thriving food entrepreneur community.
One entrepreneur who is looking to bring a sustainable protein farm to Detroit is Anthony Hatinger, who founded Detroit Ento with Ted Kozerski and Adam Ingrao.
Hatinger says Detroit can lend itself to being a hot spot for indoor agriculture because of the available space (see "Bigger Fish to Fry"). There is potential for research innovations that could help bring new jobs and new ways of changing how we eat, he adds.
Crickets take a few weeks to grow and can eat pre-consumer organic waste (uneaten items that grocery stores or restaurants throw out). They’re grown indoors in a vertical integrated system, then are harvested, dehydrated, and milled for use.
The cricket is Detroit Ento’s starting point, but they hope to branch out into other streams of insect protein for food, feed, and pharmaceutical uses. This summer, they’re doing testing and production to create samples and edible products for chefs and food producers, says Hatinger, who works as production garden coordinator at Central Detroit Christian CDC.
While a cricket-based burger may never trump an all-beef burger in the hearts (and stomachs) of diners, the biggest benefit may come from an impact on the environment. Raising crickets requires fewer resources than animals such cattle, which should eat grass, not corn, which is what many animals will eat in an industrialized agricultural system. It could also change the way chickens are fed.
“If you are replacing some of this land-based feed to these chickens to something that’s easily sustainably cultivated, it’s going to make a bigger environmental impact than just me choosing to eat crickets,” Lesnik says.