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Free Minds & Free Markets

Eating Insects Could Be the Future of Culinary Innovation

If government will stay out of the way.

Triangular-shaped Chirps, which come in three flavors, are made using flour milled from crickets. Photo credit: Ferrari/ZUMA Press/NewscomTriangular-shaped Chirps, which come in three flavors, are made using flour milled from crickets. Photo credit: Ferrari/ZUMA Press/NewscomHere in the U.S., we tend not think of insects as food, and are horrified when they turn up in food. Though finding a bug in one's meal is often cause for alarm and disgust, the laws around U.S. food standards recognize that bugs making their way into what we eat is simply a fact of life.

FDA regulations known as the "Food Defect Action Levels" allow certain enumerated amounts and types of insects to be present in many foods. Take frozen orange juice. FDA rules specify that frozen orange juice is acceptable for sale if it contains fewer than "5 or more [fruit fly] and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml." Canned corn, meanwhile may be sold containing "larvae, cast skins, larval or cast skin fragments of corn ear worms or corn borer," so long as the aggregate length of bug parts does not exceed 12 millimeters in 24 pounds of product. (The rules also discuss the maximum number of rodent hairs various foods may contain.)

But in other parts of the world, people eat insects on purpose. The United Nations calls insects "a highly significant food source for human populations." Another source claims people in 80 percent of all countries—one of every three humans—eat bugs. The things we want to keep out of our food are actually a great source of protein, fat, and fiber.

Yet in a world full of willing bug eaters, it's perhaps no surprise that the law—the thing that so often dictates what we may or may not eat—prevents us from thinking of grubs as grub.

A fascinating piece this week by Massimo Reverberi, founder of a Thailand-based bug-pasta company, suggests a regulatory divide between the English-speaking world, which he says has been welcoming of edible bugs, and the EU, which he reveals "have felt the need to have rules and provide approvals before allowing any marketing."

Reverberi writes that the U.S. and its FDA—the same agency that establishes Food Defect Action Levels for bugs in common foods marketed in the United States—has been surprisingly good about establishing permissive regulations for edible-insect foods.

Others recent news backs that up.

"Last week, the Enterra Feed Corporation, based in British Columbia, was approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials to sell insect-based [animal] feed in the United States," writes author James McWilliams in a piece this month for Pacific Standard.

While rules in the United States aren't unkind to those who would market bugs, this country nevertheless has been slow to adopt the trend of eating creepy crawlers.

In the early 1990s, while a college student in Washington, D.C., I drank many drinks and ate many bugs as the Insect Club, which, as the name suggests, was not only insect-themed in its décor but also in its bar snacks.

I thought the bug trend might take off then. It didn't. But that's clearly changing.

Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, began offering toasted chili-lime grasshoppers during games last year. I tried them during a spring game and found them to be a damn tasty beer snack. The grasshoppers proved so popular that Poquito's, the local Mexican restaurant that offers up the grasshoppers, was forced to cap sales.

In addition to grasshoppers, crickets seem a particularly popular offering.

"Crickets are the gateway bug," bug-flour entrepreneur Jarrod Goldin told Fortune in 2016.

San Francisco-based Don Bugito started out as a bug-centric food truck specializing in pre-Hispanic foods of the Americas. It now sells a variety of insect-based foods, including chocolate-covered bugs and cricket-flour granola.

A food truck in Belgium has also capitalized on the "roach coach" insult by selling skewered bugs, dubbed "crickets on a stick."

"They aren't really crickets, they're grasshoppers, but it sounds better to say cricket on a stick," says owner Bart Smit.

Bug sales look set to skyrocket.

"[M]arket research predicts farmed insect production will rise 102 percent between now and 2022," writes McWilliams.

I welcome a future filled with more tasty insect culinary choices. As long as regulators at home and abroad don't erect pointless hurdles along the way, that future seems inevitable.

Photo Credit: Ferrari/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Jerryskids||

    If you can eat a shrimp, you can eat a cockroach.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yes, shrimp are the cockroaches of the sea.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    You don't eat the shrimp whole -- it gets veined before cooking.

    Removing the offensive parts of a cockroach would not be worth the tiny amount of nutrition it provides.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Someone hasn't seen Madagascar hissing roaches.

  • El Oso||

    Ah, yes, cockroach ceviche...the idea of it makes my mouth ----

  • Ben_||

    No it won't. This stupid topic keeps being brought up year after year, decade after decade. It's no more serious now than it was 20 years ago. Actually less.

    The future of food is food. The same food we have now, but better tasting and healthier. Not some silly novelty, weird scientific concoction, or something only desperate starving people eat.

  • LordOfLotion||

    Pretty much this. This is like those studies about coffee and aspirin that pop up every couple of years and then everything goes right back to the way it was. There is nothing anyone can say or do to get me to eat this stuff.

  • DiegoF||

    Maybe not you in particular, but you both go too far in generalizing your tastes.

    Doesn't seem remotely farfetched, or inconsistent with the past, to think that the future of the global first-world food culture is to steadily incorporate more and more erstwhile exotic tastes from around the world. Maybe it looks to you guys like the canon of first-world "bugs"--shrimp, crawfish, lobsters, crab, snails, etc.--is destined to be fixed in stone forever, with all others--even things that don't seem materially much different, like crickets and scorpions--forever "silly" and "weird" and for only "desperate starving people." But that doesn't seem very consistent with what has happened in the past: Plenty of once "weird" foreign foods, and foods traditionally for poor people and even those explicitly stigmatized as such, have become sought-after cuisine. It's hard to think anyone with even a passing familiarity with the history of food would think otherwise.

    Some things are probably destined to always be niche. The parts of the animal that taste like feces come to mind. Others seem to be instinctively tasty to man, and shit like crickets scorpions and crawfish seem to be in this category. If Seattle is consistently selling out on crickets for their ballpark, 100% growth in four years for this very modest category doesn't seem unlikely. The only thing that is clickbait to be ignored is dumb environmentalist shit about how "bugs are the future" not chicken and beef.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    The food we have now is not sustainable in the future. Aquifers around the world are nearly depleted.

  • El Oso||

    Let the future figure it out - I'll stick with steak....

  • Verbum Vincet||

    Ha! Amen, brother. Over the last twenty years, I've lost my taste for most meat except for smoky, grilled steak, smoky grilled hamburgers, and the occasional shredded smoky BBQ pork when done by a true pitmaster. Meat tastes way too gamey and gristly anymore, and vegetarian options are phenomenal these days!

    I've eaten bugs in the Army, and have no desire to do it again. Grasshoppers are crunchy, but carry tapeworms when eaten raw. Ants are bitter and totally unsatisfying, depending on the size of a given species, of course. They're better when dipped in chocolate. Cockroaches? No idea, and no desire to find out, though I understand they're meticulously clean and it's their feces that cause allergic reactions in humans.

    Same thing with freshly killed chicken - gamey, gray and rubbery, and nothing like the delicious fried chicken folks are used to eating! When MRE time came, I managed to wrangle a veggie BBQ burger with potato stix about 99 times out of 100. Too bad they don't make them anymore!

  • Sevo||

    "The food we have now is not sustainable in the future. Aquifers around the world are nearly depleted."
    Neo-mathusians have been proven wrong 100% of the time.

  • Wizard4169||

    As long as we don't let the monkey Luddites shut down things like crops engineered to use less water.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Agreed about the luddites, but that won't be enough on its own. Food animals consume a lot of water, and also require the growing of their own food which consumes more water. And the demand for meat is expanding into areas of the world where it previously had been considered a luxury.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Do you disagree that aquifers around the world are nearly depleted?

    Just because there have been incorrect doomsayers in the past doesn't imply that doom will never come.

  • Ben_||

    This is even less serious. How many decades and centuries have we been hearing this "sustainability" talk? Yet food only gets relatively cheaper and better and remains abundant year after year, decade after decade. Energy too. You people never learn.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    LOL. The shelves at your local Walmart in America are never empty, so that means food is abundant. Sure. Most of the world's population has little food security.

    Even US food prices are rising faster than inflation, and would be rising even more were it not for the introduction of just-in-time distribution systems, which are extremely efficient but also very fragile. If something stops trucks from coming to your store, it will be empty in less than 48 hours.

  • hello.||

    Most of the world's population has little food security.

    Most of the world's population is better fed now than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago or 100 years ago regardless of how they fare on some ridiculous fabricated first world buzzword like "food security". 1 in 5 Americans are supposedly lacking in "food security" too. Guess how many people are actually starving in America?

  • No Longer Amused||

    That's so cute. Were you also on board for Global Cooling, The Population Bomb, and Peak Oil?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He is not saying insects will replace other types of protein, man. This is not some secret UN agenda to help turn us all into gay frogs. He is just saying people are exploring new frontier and that the government should stay out of the way. Personally, I am down to try new foods.

  • Ben_||

    Go ahead and try it. I might try it too. It's a novelty. It's not "the future". It will never be more than a novelty.

  • StackOfCoins||

    If you want to get 25 billion people on the planet, then more dietary protein is going to come from insects. This is not some Malthusian viewpoint: insects turn water and grain into protein far more efficiently than livestock.

  • hello.||

    The population of earth is going to peak at around 10 billion and then decline, so the steps supposedly necessary to feed a population of 25 billion deserve about as much consideration as what will happen when global warming raises sea levels by 200 feet.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Forgive me if I doubt your prescience.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Still, the packaging in the photo could look less like a "hill of beans"

  • Ken Shultz||

    Eating insects seems gross to me, but I'd rather eat bugs than do a lot of things.

    I'd rather eat bugs than see Liz Warren become president.

    I'd rather eat bugs than give up my motorcycle to make things easier for autonomous cars.

    I'd rather eat bugs than continue to pay capital gains tax, a corporate tax on profits, and an income tax on dividends..

    I'd rather eat bugs than watch the next disgrace of a Star Wars movie.

    I can see all kinds of trends working their way into the future, and eating bugs is by no means the worst of them.

  • Greg F||

    My favorite bug is lobster.

  • Sevo||

    Crawdads are tasty.

  • El Oso||

    I thought you were going say that you would rather eat bugs than see Liz Warren naked...

  • Eidde||

    I'd rather eat *broccoli* than see Warren naked.

  • DiegoF||

    Only into white chicks or something?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Liar. If someone posted a link to naked pictures of Pocahontas, you would totally click. As would anyone else here.

  • No Longer Amused||

    Yeah, but not to fap....

  • Wizard4169||

    As a rider, I suspect autonomous cars might actually be less of a hazard than human-directed cages. If nothing else, they should be more predictable.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I think he was alluding to the possibility of banning motorcycles because they are harder for autonomous cars to account for.

  • Ken Shultz||

    +1

  • hokey||

    Eating insects is just a way the elites can convince the plebs to stay away from more wholesome and nutrient rich food. I agree that there shouldn't be any regulation from selling it, but I gotta wonder if the people in these other countries had a choice that they wouldn't pick say a juicy steak or dare I say avocado toast over a cockroach cocktail. Have you seen Snowpiercer?

  • gormadoc||

    You have a problem with your stats. The source you have for how much of the world eats insects is not very reliable; if you track down the original statement it does not claim that 1/3 of people eat insects, just that people in 80% of nations eat insects. You could have ~160 people, each in a different nation, and that statistic would be true. Considering the eating patterns of most of India, Europe, Japan, and the US, I very much doubt it's 1/3 of people.

    500 million straws indeed.

  • Eidde||

    John the Baptist, diet guru:

    "John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey." - Matthew 3:4 (NABRE)

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    As is usually the case with scripture for (insert Abrahamic religion here), it depends on the translation. By "locusts" they may have been referring to the fruits of "locust" trees. In any case, if it keeps the cost of living down, keep eatin' them locusts, Johnny.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Anyone ever read Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress"? I always think back to that novelette whenever I encounter yet another Reason "Everything's getting better and better" article followed by "Your Future Diet Will Include Bugs" articles.

    Must take the rough with the smooth I suppose. Ow, I think an insect just bit me. Or maybe it was another injection of Optimizol....

  • Ken Shultz||

    Tranhumanists do seem to fetishize squeamishness, anyway.

    Sometimes it reads like a museum guide to the art of Abjection--only you're supposed to like it.

    The future is full of wealth and possibility--and we'll all be drinking Piss Christ soda!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Lem is awesome.

  • Hank Phillips||

    After Reagan beat Jimmeh the Ghawdly, all the same looters who today swear the End is Nigh because Misanthropic Global Warming were saying The End Is Nigh because Nucular WInter (unless you surrender). I paid $80 for a copy of Butterflies in my Stomach (how to raise and eat insects after Armageddon), probably from Paladin Press. Nowadays you can get it at Amazon for $25! http://tinyurl.com/yahosoe2

  • hello.||

    Yet in a world full of willing bug eaters, it's perhaps no surprise that the law—the thing that so often dictates what we may or may not eat—prevents us from thinking of grubs as grub.

    That's not what prevents us from thinking of grubs as grub. In the absence of any food regulation at all of any kind you will never find anyone besides third world peasants and self-loathing exorbitantly wealthy white people eating insects. And when you import those third world peasants to America to constitute the slave labor welfare class they will immediately cease eating insects and the only people left eating insects will be their self-loathing exorbitantly wealthy white bosses.

  • No Longer Amused||

    That's OK for you peasants, but I'm sticking with cows.

  • RobertFl||

    We know how many bugs the FDA will allow in a bag of food, but, how much food will the FDA allow in a bag of bugs?

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