World hunger issues prompt GJ man to try monthlong diet of insects
Jeremy Connor has a long history of picky eating.
Butter on his bread? No thanks. Dressing on his salad? Forget it. Avocados? Nope.
So you can imagine his breakfast Monday morning: potatoes cut homefries-style — or in the style of a typical Central American meal — and pan-fried until tender, tossed with a handful of crickets.
Yes, crickets. Those crickets, relatives of the stark black insects he saw clinging to the underside of a tarp in his yard when he lifted it a while back. He saw those several dozen bugs and thought, hmmm…
He’d been pondering and researching for a while — aquaponics, hydroponics, various methods of small-scale, sustainable agriculture that could not only supplement his family’s diet, but help him contribute to combating malnutrition and hunger, worldwide problems that have long laid on his heart.
So, insects. Bugs. Creeping (or hopping) critters that some researchers think have the potential to end world hunger.
“I’ll be the first to admit it’s not easy,” said Connor, 40, a Grand Junction father of four who has a background in ministry. “That first time I just kind of breathed through it and once I ate it, it was like, oh, this is OK.”
For the entire month of May, Connor is conducting an experiment in which his diet consists only of the insects and plant-based foods that can either be found locally in the four regions of the world with the highest concentration of people who endure chronic hunger, or brought in through food aid programs.
Working with various agriculturalists and producers of insect-based products around the country, he said the goal is not just to raise awareness of the benefits of incorporating insects into a balanced, omnivorous diet, but to produce a picture-based Farming Insects Guide that can be distributed and used around the world.
Via their Seeds of Action organization (seedsofaction.com) and #BugsEndHunger campaign, and in partnership with Little Herds (littleherds.org), Connor and his wife, Naomi, said they hope to be part of a dietary change not just in developing nations, but at home as well.
While Naomi and the children aren’t consuming insects to the degree Jeremy is, their 12-year-old son did request an insect-infused cake for his birthday Saturday.
It’s all part, Jeremy said, of conquering the “ick factor,” making insects just another element of a balanced diet, rather than something to be eaten on a dare, and something that can be farmed worldwide to support families not just nutritionally but economically as well.
“It’s definitely fear of the unknown and this perception that bugs are gross, and all the negative connotations with them,” explained Wendy Lu McGill, founder of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch (rmmr.co) in Denver, at which she and her business partner, Kyle Conrad, farm crickets. “Increasingly, you find more people who say things like, I know this is really important, I know this is sustainable, I know this is valuable nutritionally, but it’s not for me until I have to.”
Even with attention increasingly being given to eating insects — “On Eating Insects,” a book exploring the science, culture, ethics and gastronomy of it, was released Monday — there’s a revulsion toward insects in western culture that dates back millennia, said David George Gordon, a Seattle chef and author of “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.”
“As soon as (western) culture got into agriculture, instead of hunting and gathering, insects became a pain in the neck,” Gordon said. “They ate the grain, they ruined crops. We fought them and our first instinct became to kill them. But my own perspective is we really need bugs to keep the planet functioning.”
A 2013 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report (fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf) on entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects, cited insects as part of traditional diets for more than 2 billion people worldwide.
According to the report, “insects provide food at low environmental cost, contribute positively to livelihoods, and play a fundamental role in nature. However, these benefits are largely unknown to the public. Contrary to popular belief, insects are not merely ‘famine foods’ eaten in times of food scarcity or when purchasing and harvesting ‘conventional foods’ becomes difficult; many people around the world eat insects out of choice, largely because of the palatability of the insects and their established place in local food cultures.”
Many involved in entomophagy, including Gordon and McGill, acknowledge that the western diet — including its bags of potato chips and its sugar-laden processed foods — has to a degree become the aspirational diet worldwide, “so in a lot of countries that traditionally have eaten insects, they think of that as bush food, or for old weirdos,” Gordon said. “They’d rather be eating Colonel Sanders, so there’s actually been a kind of die-off of traditional ways.”
McGill said that because hunger is a multi-faced, multi-dimensional problem with causes, and thus solutions, that can vary from region to region, a facet of combating it might be the addition and normalization of insects in the western diet.
“We aren’t culturally inclined to distinguish between good insects and bad insects,” wrote anthropologist Krystal D’Costa in a 2013 blog post for Scientific American. “And I don’t know that we care to make this distinction. Insects are different — they’re like miniature monsters with their antennae and pincers and multiple appendages. By casting them all as ‘bad,’ they’re easier to deal with.”
It’s the “Fear Factor” problem, Jeremy Connor said: People grow up daring each other to eat bugs. It’s a horrifying, gag-inducing rite of passage. And even with increased efforts to normalize and promote insects as part of a balanced diet, they’re still a novelty item when they show up on menus, a bragging right and badge of honor when consumed.
But they could be just… dinner. Or part of it, Connor said.
Consider his May 1 meals, the first of his monthlong experiment and focusing on the cuisine of regions in Central America and the Caribbean that consistently deal with food insecurity and hunger: Breakfast was potatoes with crickets. Lunch was mayi moulin ak paw, a Haitian dish with cornmeal, coconut milk and kidney beans, to which Connor added mealworm powder (mealworms being not actually worms, but beetle larva).
Dinner was black beans, rice and fresh salsa with 1/3 cup of whole roasted crickets, plus white corn tortillas.
The crickets in his breakfast alone provided him with 14 grams of protein, “but it’s not just protein,” he said. “Insects can provide so many more nutrients than just protein,” including iron, calcium, riboflavin and niacin.
He suggested that insect powders might provide the gateway for many people, something they can sprinkle in their smoothies and begin to normalize the idea of consuming insects for those who have not traditionally done so.
And for those who have, Connor’s goal is to create strategic relationships worldwide, offering people the support, education and means to safely and productively farm insects so that they can not only provide for their families, but sell the surplus and work toward economic independence.
He and Naomi are documenting his monthlong journey with a daily vlog on their website, “and though I’m doing it as a campaign this month, I feel like our family is transitioning as a lifestyle,” he said. “At the end, I feel like (eating insects) will be a part of our life.”
It starts, then, one bug at a time.