I Swapped Meat For Insects & It Revolutionized My Diet (And Life)
Earlier this year, mbg broke the news that insect proteins might just be going mainstream—which is a major win for the planet. Studies show that bugs take up to 89 percent less greenhouse gas to grow than poultry and way less water. Snack brands like EXO Protein, Chirps, and Bitty Foods are starting to champion this sustainable protein in their products—but what’s it actually like to make bugs a staple of a Western diet? For this as-told-to, we chatted with Joy Nemerson, an environmentalist who has found a way to seamlessly work insects into her life and is on a mission to help others to do the same.
As a longtime environmentalist, I've always been a stickler about clean protein. While I'm an omnivore, I try not to eat too much dairy and stay away from beef because of the resources that go into raising cows. But it wasn't until recently that I became borderline obsessed with an ingredient that requires less feed, land, and water than any other meat out there.
Yep, I'm talking about bugs.
My first real interaction with bugs happened when I met with Chirps chips' CEO Rose Wang at a Sustainable Brands Conference for my job (I work for the recycling company TerraCycle) a few years ago. Her passion really got me interested in the concept, and from there I read the book Edible: An Adventure Into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet and was totally hooked.
I immediately knew I wanted to go somewhere where bugs were actually part of the cuisine, so I promptly convinced my boyfriend to sign on to a trip to Mexico City. We set out this January on a vacation filled with ant egg tacos, street cart grasshoppers, and ants and beetles galore.
At first, I found it a little intimidating to, you know, stare at a cricket in the face, but I found that once you taste it and realize it's not so foreign, it's pretty easy to keep going. In Mexico, there are some really amazing pre-Columbian restaurants that showcase these traditional recipes with a new twist, and it inspired me to find creative ways to incorporate bugs into my diet Stateside.
Why I've kept up with my buggy diet.
Nowadays, I try to swap out chicken or turkey with insect protein at least two times a week—usually for dinner, because that's when I have the most time to cook. Crickets are usually the easiest bugs to come by, so I'll use those the most. I get mine from Mom's Organic Market or online, and these days, there are a few brands working cricket protein into things like protein bars and chips.
I like incorporating cricket flour into baking, and I've gotten used to putting whole crickets in fried rice or just served with vegetables. But my favorite thing to cook has to be cricket pizza. It's what I like to call "uncomfortable comfort food"—familiar but with a twist. I incorporate cricket flour into the dough, use cricket Bolognese sauce (yep, it's a thing!), and put whole crickets on top, along with a lot of spices.
Seeing bugs on food is still so different to people that I've found they are more receptive to hearing about it. So I talk about these diet tweaks whenever I can, offer to share my creations with friends and family, and make a point to keep up with the Instagram account devoted to my crawly creations.
How (and why) to start working bugs into your routine in a gradual way.
I've always been a little bit of a picky eater. If I told my 8-year-old self I would be eating bugs one day, I think she would scream and run away. Bugs are definitely new and different for me—but they open the door to talk to people about sustainable proteins, and I think right now it's about spreading awareness on the environmental impact of raising meat.
Beyond being better for the planet, certain bugs are also really high in iron and B12—which a lot of vegans and vegetarians are deficient in. Cricket flour is also one of the least processed protein powders, versus a whey or soy protein, so I'll often take it before workouts and have noticed a difference in my energy levels. (Hey, if it works for Whole30 founder Melissa Hartwig...) In terms of cost, it's pretty on par with other powders you'd find on the market. But heads up: When you're buying actual bugs, it tends to be more expensive just because there aren't many farms raising bugs for human consumption yet. When the demand gets higher, the price will probably come down, but right now they're still at a premium.
For people who are intimidated or don't know where to start, I would definitely recommend beginning with a product that incorporates bug powder or flour. That way, you can get a sense for the taste in a more neutral territory. And from there, get to the kitchen! Anything you cook yourself is going to taste better. Oh, and read about the movement as much as you can, because we eat with our minds first.
Right now, bugs are still kind of a novelty, but we've been so adaptive to new eating trends lately that I have high hopes for a buggy future.