By Anna Daugherty, Briana Franklin, Emma Ledford and Andrew Masi
If a bug has ever flown into your mouth, chances are it was an unpleasant experience… but there’s a movement in Austin that’s trying to turn that around.
Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Startup company Hopper Foods, restaurant La Condesa, educational nonprofit Little Herds and other groups are working to normalize entomophagy in Austin to promote sustainability and a healthy alternative protein.
Hopper Foods makes energy bars with ground crickets – exoskeleton and all – and other all-natural ingredients. The company currently only sells the bars online and at in.gredients on Manor Road, but they plan to roll out to more locations starting as early as next month, said Founder and CEO Jack Ceadel.
“We have been amazed by how receptive people are,” Ceadel said. “I’m assuming that’s, you know, partly an Austin thing. We’ll see how people in the Midwest deal with the idea.”
Ceadel estimated that 10 percent of people totally refuse to try the bars, but 40-50 percent give them a “straight yes.” It’s the ones in the middle, he said, that they’d like to target and persuade.
“This is an entry level product,” Ceadel said. “We’re not asking you to take the whole cricket and put it in your mouth and chew it up.”
At least not yet.
The goal right now, he said, is getting people desensitized to the idea of entomophagy and educating them about its benefits. Crickets are nutrient rich, containing 68 percent protein by weight, all nine essential amino acids and other nutrients such as iron and calcium. They are also sustainable: it takes just one gallon of water to produce one pound of cricket protein, compared to 1,000 gallons for beef and 600 for pork.
So far Ceadel and company are only selling bars made with “cricket powder,” but they have a list of products they plan to roll out in the not-so-distant future that will start masking the bugs less and less.
“If you look at the way sushi and other things are mainstream the way they weren’t, you know, 50 years ago, I think that this will be very, very mainstream in five years,” he said.
La Condesa on Second Street is ahead of the curve. The Mexican restaurant began serving their seasonal chapulines – fried grasshopper tacos – in late September. Executive Chef Rick Lopez wasn’t sure what to expect, but was “blown away” by the positive reception after selling out within two hours on the first day.
“I didn’t want, like, bros coming in and just saying ‘Nah, we didn’t like them. It was just a dare.’ I really wanted people to eat them, and every single dish that came back was empty,” Lopez said.
The restaurant gets the grasshoppers whole, clean and boiled like “little tiny lobsters,” and treated with toasted garlic, salt and lime juice, he said. They come from Mexico, which in Lopez’s opinion is exactly as it should be.
“We’re just kind of paying homage to Oaxaca and Mexico City where people eat this stuff everyday,” he said.
“So what we tell the tables is when you move back the kale – you move your grass away – you find the little bugs underneath living close to the wet mud, you know,” Lopez said. “Where they want to be.”
Focusing on where bugs want to be is also important to Little Herds founder Robert Nathan Allen. Little Herds is an Austin-based educational nonprofit that works to promote ethical insect farming.
“Insects can be raised in environments that are preferable. They like dark, teeming, cramped conditions,” Allen said. “They have abundant food, they don’t have natural predators, they don’t have to worry about parasites and diseases.”
People who are vegetarian for health or environmental reasons are likely to support the idea because insects offer a sustainable and healthy protein alternative to red meat, Allen said. It is also a good option for those who are vegetarian for ethical reasons, he said, because they are killed painlessly: they simply lower their body temperature until they die peacefully in their sleep. He acknowledged that vegans and “philosophical” vegetarians are not their target audience due to their perspective on animal life and consumption, but that doesn’t mean these groups shouldn’t support entomophagy as a movement.
“I think there’s a lot of gray area there that insects have a really good role in,” Allen said. “And even if you’re not willing to eat insects, I think everybody should be on board with the idea of more people eating insects.”