By: Faith Daniel, Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman and Nataly Torres
Before you grab the fly swatter and aimlessly chase your insect target, think about the little critter that you’re about to swat. A bug’s life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Bugs typically meet their fate at the sole of your wandering shoes or by being showered with insecticides. Creepy crawlies are feared by many, but are mostly considered to be gross. We eat gummy worms, so why not consider eating the real thing?
Robert Nathan Allen was a recent college graduate, managing a local bar in Austin when his mother sent him a video on the sustainability and health benefits of eating insects as a joke. Intrigued by entomophagy, the consumption of insects as food, Allen researched the practice and reached out to entomophagists worldwide. Blown away by the benefits of eating insects, Allen wanted to be the first person in Austin to have bugs on the menu. Although that particular idea didn’t pan out, he spent the next year and a half hatching the idea for Little Herds.
Allen may not have been the first person to have crickets and larvae on menus around the city, but he did see the need for an educational advocacy group. Austin lacked a nonprofit that could provide the community with education and transparency on eating insects, but while also focusing on how they are raised, processed and used in food. “Not only do we want to assure that they’re healthy, hygienic, clean and sustainable, but we also want you to see how you can take cricket flour and turn it into something in your own kitchen,” says Allen.
There was no doubt in Allen’s mind when deciding where to plant and grow his project. Known for its interest in nutrition, sustainability and love for all things weird, Austin was the perfect place to get the ball rolling. Allen saw that Texas’ capital city is very progressive and forward thinking, and thought that Austin would be more likely to accept the practice of insect eating.
He also spent a great deal of time finding the perfect name to suit his bugged out venture. “Little Herds ended up being the one that had the best fit for what we were doing in terms of focusing on the education of edible insects, but also really focusing on children’s education. It has a great dual meaning there — little herds of insects and little herds of kids eating the insects,” says Allen.
Little Herds was incorporated in June 2013 and received their 501(c)(3) that December.
Still in its infancy stage, Little Herds is focusing on educating the community through various programs. The nonprofit focuses on the younger Austinites- children. Little Herds works hand-in-hand with schools, museums and farmers markets to educate the community on entomophagy by planning various educational programs. Oftentimes, the nonprofit will have events geared towards children that allow them to experiment with insects in the kitchen. Little Herds believes that it’s important to reach out to the younger generation because if they can adopt insects into their diet, they will be more likely to pass it on to their children. The nonprofit partners with local chefs to ensure that the meals are delicious and nutritious.
Little Herds isn’t trying to sugarcoat the idea that people are eating bugs. Being upfront and letting people know and understand what they are eating is important. “The best way to get over that psychological taboo isn’t to hide it or turn it into something that it’s not. It’s to be point blank with people about what they’re eating,” says Allen.
When you inform people about the health benefits and its sustainability and that most of the world eats them, it reduces their fear and hesitation to try the edible critters. “When you present them in an approachable, traditional and normal way, they don’t have a problem giving it a try,” says Allen.
With almost 2,000 edible species in existence, insects provide health benefits greater than those provided by traditional meat sources. Insects tend to be higher in calcium, zinc and protein and are low in cholesterol and fat. Hormones and antibiotics aren’t used when raising insects. Unlike with other animals, there is no risk of crossover diseases with insects. An insect diet proves to be healthy for humans, but is also beneficial for Mother Earth. Raising and harvesting insects uses very little land, water and feed.
“This is something that people can grow in their backyard, anywhere in the world. Even if you’re in drought conditions, disaster conditions, this is a protein source that’s healthy and you can grow with very little input,” says Allen.
By 2050, there will be an estimated nine billion people on the planet. At this rate, there won’t be enough food to sustainably feed that many mouths. “We can take insects and create these foods that can really help relieve famine and malnourishment in areas all over the world. It’s something that could have a long shelf life. It’s something that can be processed easily and cheaply and won’t lose all that nutritional density,” says Allen. Incorporating insects into one’s regular diet is an economically approachable, low-tech solution.
Little Herds is working with businesses and government agencies to sure that the public is properly educated about where to get their insects and how to prepare them. Eventually, their hope is to start a movement and share this practice with the rest of the country.
With organizations like Little Herds in the picture, maybe people will be less bugged out to try insects.