This Canadian company produces tasty snack bars, crackers, and smoothie powders that are nutritious and environmentally friendly.
A box of crickets appeared on my doorstep last week. More specifically, they were crickets that had been transformed into tasty food -- olive and chili crackers and snack bars flavored with lemon-lime, cinnamon-cardamom, and chili-chocolate -- by a Montreal-based company called Crickstart that sources all its insects from an organic cricket farm in Ontario.
Crickstart is one of a number of startups that is working hard to introduce insects into the Western diet. The motivation is partly for nutrition, partly for environmental concerns. It is difficult to argue against eating crickets once you realize how many problems they resolve when it comes to sourcing animal protein.
First, there's the ethical issue. No one is too worried about how crickets feel about their conditions. As Corey Mintz wrote for the Globe and Mail, "Even with a million crickets raised in a shoebox, not even PETA is likely to shed a tear for the conditions in which insects are kept." But even if you did, the crickets like being cramped. Crickstart explains:
"Not only can they be farmed vertically, but crickets are also naturally a swarming species and like living in large numbers together in tight quarters. Traditional livestock animals get sick in these conditions but crickets don’t -- they thrive. This means that the use of land is minimal in cricket farming and that the protein output per land unit is very high."
Second, there's the phenomenal nutritional profile of these little bugs that rivals that of the tastiest meat and vegetables. They're a complete protein, meaning they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids, and they have a ton of vitamin B12. I was surprised to learn they contain seven times more B12 than salmon and 50 times more than chicken! The soft exoskeleton is made of chitin, an excellent prebiotic fiber that's good for your gut.
Finally, they require minimal resources to produce, at least compared to equivalent quantities of meat. Per gram of cricket protein, compared to beef, they need 2,000 times less water, 12 times less feed, and emit 80 times less methane. And their feces, also known as frass (there's your word of the day), is a great plant fertilizer.
"It’s approved for certified organic agriculture programs, it’s environmentally safe for use near ponds and waterways, and safe for people and pets. It also presents no risk of over- or under-fertilizing. This means that the zero-waste concept extends beyond the food component to the whole farming process."
Best of all, the food is good. The cricket flavor is subtle yet unmistakeable; it adds an earthy tone and a slightly grainy consistency that's not unpleasant. The Crickstart snack bars (40 crickets per bar!) were my favorite, especially the chili-chocolate flavor, which has some nice heat. Compared to Exo protein bars, these are chewier and moister, which I liked, not to mention organic and cheaper.
The crackers are savory and crunchy, like a tortilla chip, but had a slight gluey consistency that made them stick to my teeth. It could be the ground flax, which is used as a binding agent. Still, I enjoyed them topped with cambozola cheese and accompanied with red wine during an at-home date night with my husband.
Food writer Mintz questions how likely it is that insects will solve the world's food woes, suggesting that "once production of edible insects is scaled up, the impact of feed, energy, processing and transportation will make bugs no more sustainable than conventional protein sources." But I'm not so sure. I think the very nature of cricket-based foods allows them to be spread further, much like a pound of ground beef (e.g. in the form of a tomato sauce or a kima-style curry) feeds more people than a pound of steak. And one cannot underestimate the ethical argument for insects. As animal welfare becomes an ever more pressing issue, even if bugs ended up being no more sustainable than conventional protein sources, the fact that they're not suffering in the way that a cow or pig or chicken does will convince many people to eat them.
I have high hopes for companies like Crickstart, whose goods are now being sold in Bulk Barns across Canada and can be ordered online. Prices will come down as production volume increases, as people grow willing to try them, and experience their deliciousness first-hand.