If you're reading this from the civilized world, most of your insect encounters boil down to emotionally scarring spider cameos and annoying flies. But in roughly 80 percent of the countries on Earth, people eat insects. Cracked sat down with one man who has made it his life's work to get Americans to eat more bugs; Kevin Bachhuber, cricket farmer, told us ...
7We're Going To Need To Eat Bugs Eventually
Kevin first ate bugs in Thailand. "In 1998, as part of comprehensive food security stuff ... the King of Thailand put together a pretty robust cricket-growing program."
Why would Thailand invest in crickets? Because crickets are an incredible source of protein: 100 grams of crickets has 21 grams of protein, compared to beef's 26 grams. Crickets need one-twelfth the feed of beef, require vastly less water, and don't need to be pumped full of antibiotics in order to raise en masse. Plus, baby crickets are considerably less cute than baby cows.
Plus they're too tiny for puppy-dog eyes to work.
In 2013, the U.N. released a report politely suggesting that people consider using insects to replace some of their animal proteins, because they generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gases than, say, pork, and Mother Nature's taking enough hits for us as it is. Kevin took that U.N. report as a call to action. He decided to become a cricket farmer:
"You can get Thai crickets and cricket standards, but, y'know ... they have different food standards. You need to have all your T's dotted and I's crossed when you're selling bugs in the U.S. We actually ended up moving to Ohio for a .27-cent-per-square-foot warehouse. ... We broke ground in April of 2014."
Kevin's is one of the 25-ish new startups in the "convincing people to eat bugs" industry. The edible industry is valued at $20 million a year and growing quickly. Kevin's "farm" consists of many different boxes, each housing 40,000*-ish crickets:
*39,999: Rupert, of Box 3, died shortly before this story was published.
"I am constantly shocked by how full the warehouse will be at times. We have a bunch of climate-controlled rooms on the farm. We now have built-in, separated-out rooms. Everything's pressure-washable. We have a harvest room that's certified and inspected as a frozen-food processing facility, and that's what our inspectors are most concerned with. We maximize the space where we actually raise the crickets."
Kevin's farm is the first and only human food-grade cricket farm in the U.S. And in order to earn that title ...
6They Had To Force The FDA To Inspect Them
People have been raising crickets in the U.S. for generations, mostly to use as feed for the pets of your friendly neighborhood weirdo. Kevin says that the advice of those growers was indispensable, but, because the government only barely cares what we feed our most conventionally adorable pets, they couldn't help him cut through the regulatory red tape necessary to make people-food-grade crickets. Kevin's farm had to get certified by a state-level food agency and inspected by the FDA. Yes, "inspected," not approved. "They hate the word 'approved.' We are 'inspected' by the FDA, and that's the most they're willing to say."
Getting the FDA to inspect them was an uphill battle. "It took a lot of work and a lot of educating. My first call with food safety guy: 'Crickets, those are a lot like cockroaches, right?'" A year later, he figured out the comeback: "They're kind of like roaches in the way that rats are like elephants."
Splinter, left; Dumbo, right.
It turns out there are three rules you have to abide by to sell food to people: "Don't take bugs that are wild-harvested and put them in people food. Don't take animal food bugs and put them in people food. And the third is ... to use GMPs: good manufacturing practices."
GMPs aren't very well defined when it comes to farming bugs. So Kevin's farm had to give the FDA something they understood how to inspect: They built a frozen-food processing facility inside their farm, just to force an FDA inspection:
"Insects are neither plants nor, like, cows. So there's no rules, really. With the FDA in particular, you don't get their approval for something. You go and do it, and if you get it wrong, they sue you. In the E.U. you get permission, in the U.S. you seek forgiveness."
Eli Duke / Wiki Commons
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