The Incredible Edible Cricket (July 21, 2015)
One of the recurring themes in the long song of summer news stories this year has been the California drought. Its mention is often accompanied by this choice tidbit of information -- it supposedly takes a gallon of water to produce ONE ALMOND. We have the magazine Mother Jones to thank for this choice bit of information, because they have been sounding the alarm of California agricultural water misuse for much longer than anyone else. Since, uh, 2014.
Not that lack of drinkable water isn't a real problem. Tennessee is blessed in not having to worry about our water supplies (as long as Georgia will keep its cotton-picking hands off the Tennessee River, anyway). The Economist has been saying for decades that water is going to be the oil of the 21st century in terms of scarcity, cost and social disruption. So Water, Lack And Conservation Of, is an interesting topic for anyone whose personal life is peaceful enough that they can mull over such things from time to time. And especially for those of us who feel personally responsible for anything that the human race is doing wrong anywhere. You know. Liberals.
So, the very mention of the subject of water scarcity and agricultural overuse was enough to throw a certain portion of the population into full-on panic about their water consumption. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when it leads one to do practical things like let the stupid lawn die already, instead of constantly having your sprinklers going. The thing is, whenever a certain segment of the population panics like this, there’s another segment prepared to jump in and profit off the first group. Thus the recent American advent of the edible cricket.
You may not know (why would you?) that in 2013 the World Health Organization suggested wider worldwide consumption of insects as a partial solution to the dual problems of feeding the population and conserving water. This inspired all kinds of creative thinking in your think-tank types, and one of them produced this particular solution to solve America’s – yea, the world’s – food and water crisis in one fell swoop. Yes! You've got it. Cricket farms!
I first ran into this concept while wandering around the internet trying to find out if it was actually true that it take one gallon of water to grow a single almond. (Yes it is. And almost five gallons for a walnut. AND 2500 gallons to produce a pound of beef.) You can use that same gallon of water (well, not you maybe. Not me, anyway) to turn out a pound of crickets, which contain about 60 grams of high quality protein.
The author of this article (the one that talked about the water-grabbing almonds) wrote long and eloquently about the glories of cricket consumption, which is fine. But he did not stop there. He also talked about his latest product, a flour containing ground crickets that can be substituted in baking for regular wheat flour.
It costs $20 for 20 ounces of this baking flour. And each $20 bag has three ONE-QUARTER-CUP SERVINGS of flour. (That’s what the label says.) So as a cup-for-cup substitute, we are talking some pretty pricey cricket-chocolate-chip cookies here. Also, the flour contains seven grams of protein per serving. So that's $20 for a bag of flour that contains a total of 21 grams of protein? This is going to solve world hunger, how?
Not enamored of the idea of baking a loaf of cricket bread for $80? Well, you can subscribe to buying a box of this guy's 2.1-ounce food bars with cricket as one of the ingredients. Each bar has 10 grams of protein. Cricket isn't the first ingredient, though. That first ingredient is ALMONDS. You know, those demonic one-gallon-of-water-per-nut almonds? Is it me, or are we seeing a little cognitive dissonance here?
Or, you can buy 100% ground crickets from someone else if you like. These crickets have been “fed a diet of vegetables in hygienic conditions”. (Which makes me imagine terrible things about the first guy's crickets.) A .22 pound bag of these will set you back $11.25 -- for 12.9 grams of protein. C’mon, guys, even a Payday bar has 15 grams of protein in it.
If you go looking up any of this stuff yourself, take note that these articles rather casually blur the lines between pound of critter, pound of protein, and pound of usable protein. When you finally sort through all the numbers, you find out that it doesn’t take much more water to turn out soy protein than it does an equivalent amount of cricket protein. There are other advantages to eating insects, of course, both nutritional and planet-saving. As long as you eat the insects and not these absurd boutique products.
If you want to experiment with some of these foods, more power to you. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be doing anything good for the earth by doing so. Not yet, anyway. No matter how Paleo crickets are. (There are indeed protein bars with crickets in them, and supposedly adherents of the Paleo diet are one of the forces driving modern cricket eating. That's great, but -- PALEO PROTEIN BARS? I see a whole other article here.)
--dr. diane holmes
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