I got something exciting in the mail recently!
BUGS! Yes they really are bugs. I know that box doesn't look like it's full of bugs, but it is. Lots of bugs. Hundreds of bugs. Crickets specifically, and nuts and fruit and honey and other tasty ingredients. It's my order of Exo protein bars, made with whole dried ground crickets.
If I had come across these bars at a different time in my life I might have been grossed out, but I was really excited when I saw Exo. I guess I have been primed to think more about insect eating by articles and lectures; there is a growing movement to normalize insects as food. And they provide some compelling reasons to join the bug bandwagon: insects are environmentally sound protein sources because they are very efficient convertors of feed to protein, which reduces their environmental impacts. They can be farmed very inexpensively, which provides a possibility to provide high quality food at low cost to populations whose food security is at risk. Insects are already consumed by the majority of the world's population as an ordinary part of their diets, so there is nothing novel or bizarre about these foods.
There is no real difference between seafood that we eat and prize (lobsters, crabs, shrimp) and insects that revolt many of us, apart from our perceptions of them. We have normalized crustacean eating and we have culturally conditioned ourself to be disgusted by insects. Perhaps a small part of this disgust is our association between insects and decay, infestation and rot. If our food is compromised, we are likely to find grubs, maggots, beetles, weevils, larvae. Insects are associated with our food rotting. We are unlikely to find our pantries infested by lobsters or shrimp, and perhaps this helps us to create a distinction between these otherwise similar arthropods. They are so similar in fact that people who have shellfish allergies are likely to be allergic to crickets and other insects. Our aversion to insects is culturally programmed, and to make insect eating widespread would require a large scale rebranding. It certainly wouldn't be the first such shift in image for an arthropod; lobster made a transition from being a food for the poorest in North America eaten in shame, to being a luxury. Maybe bugs can make a similar shift.
Environmental and ethical arguments aside, the key thing for me was to taste them. I have tried lots of other protein and energy bars and I have generally found that homemade is better. I can control the flavour, which I like. The Exo bar flavours were quite good as protein bars go. They taste similar to other high end bars made with the same sorts of ingredients. I really liked the peanut butter and jam flavour, I enjoyed the chocolate flavour and I was a little underwhelmed by the ginger and cashew flavour. There was no trace of fishy flavour that I have read some insects can have. There was no particular flavour element that I could identify as crickety at all, though this was my first taste of crickets so it was difficult to be certain about that. There are no visible legs, wings or other identifiably insecty parts to put off those still slightly unnerved by eating crickets; this seems like the perfect way to ease into insect eating.
Ordering the Exo bars was fairly expensive; as far as I know they are not available in shops here in Victoria so I ordered them directly from Exo in Brooklyn. The cost of the bars themselves seemed reasonable, about the same as other high end energy or protein bars I have tried, but the cost of shipping on top of that would make it prohibitive for me to order them on a regular basis. If Exo bars or other cricket based products were available at my local grocery stores I would definitely like to eat them more regularly. I would really like to make my own energy bars with cricket flour to experiment with flavours; Exo is planning to sell cricket flour on its own when their capacity grows and I am really excited to try it.
I am really curious to know how others feel about insect eating: have you eaten insects? Does it revolt you, interest you or both? Would you try cricket protein bars?
Photo credit: Tyrel Hiebert