A Sustainable Alternative To Beef, Pork, And Chicken? Try Crickets.

Apr 14, 2017

A couple entrepreneurs in Eugene say they have a great protein source that uses a mere fraction of the land and water that cattle use.  So if you’re adventurous and open to what some might consider a creepy, crawly, dining experience…you too can help the environment while enjoying a nutritious – albeit six-legged -- entrée.  KLCC’s Brian Bull serves it up. 

“Have you ever…eaten a bug before?”  asks Austin Miller.  He and Zoe Anton are co-founders of Craft Crickets.  

The pair are at an Audubon Society gathering in Eugene, hosting a table covered with pamphlets on crickets’ nutritional qualities. 

Craft Crickets co-founders Zoe Anton and Austin Miller represent at a recent meeting of the Audobon Society in Eugene.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Anton offers small plastic cups containing samples. 

“These are dried, roasted crickets, we raise them right here in Eugene…” she says, as people approach. 

One woman warily eyes the cups of bugs.  She is Joyce Baker, a member of the Audobon Society.

"I’m the cupcake maker," she adds.  "This is my competition tonight.”

Miller smiles, and engages Baker.

"Can I interest you in trying some?" he asks.

"I’m a little embarrassed as an outdoorsy person to say I don’t think I want to put a bug in my mouth,” replies Baker.

Samples of dried crickets as prepared by Craft Crickets of Eugene, OR.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

We’ll get back to the Audubon Society and see how those cricket snacks go over later.  Now it’s time to visit Craft Crickets on site.  It’s in West Eugene…right behind a Burger King.

“We’re going to take you on a tour, starting at the beginning of cricket life!" says Anton. "So we’ll take you into the nursery…” 

Anton opens up a small, humid tent. Austin Miller emerges.

Austin Miller emerges with "pinheads" as Zoe Anton holds a tent flap open.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“If I dig a little hole with my finger, you can see how, there are maybe 50,000 eggs in this 8”x8” pan,” he says.  

"And this stage is called ‘pinheads’ because they’re the size of a pinhead," adds Anton. 

The next room is stacked floor to ceiling with nearly 200 plastic totes.  Miller figures they’ve 940,000 crickets here.

“They only make noise when they’re full adults. And it’s just the males, doing their mating call.”

"So I just recorded a few thousand guys saying, ‘Hey, check me out?’" I ask.

“Yep, more or less.”

Miller and Anton met in London. He’s a former finance manager for Amazon, while she worked at a sustainable development consulting firm. 

Last year they put down $25,000 for this warehouse space of 2400 square feet.  That may seem sizable for crickets, but Miller says it’s nothing compared to what’s needed for a beef steer.

“To raise a pound of crickets, you need around 15 square meters," explains Miller.  "Cows, you need around 200 square meters to get a pound.  And crickets only require 1 gallon of water to create a pound of meat in the end.  Beef, you need around 2500 gallons of water.” 

Cattle steer. Proponents of bugs as food say they take up far less acreage and resources compared to beef, pork, and chicken.
Credit adifferentbrian / Flickr.com

Craft Crickets doesn’t have a slaughterhouse.  Miller says they’re only licensed to raise them on-site.  For harvesting, they use a local kitchen down the road.

“And the crickets being cold blooded, when you move them into a freezer, they’ll slow down their systems.  And they’ll go into hibernation.”

Within 24 hours, the crickets die.  They’re then cleaned, blanched, and baked.

“That’s removing the water content.  So that you get a dried cricket that you can keep on the shelf for over a month.” 

Craft Crickets’ mission of providing more sustainable forms of protein is backed up by the United Nations, which released a report in 2013.  It argues eating bugs helps alleviate environmental impacts as well as hunger.

Some researchers - including May Berenbaum, Head of Entomology at the University of Illinois – say there’s further justification for eating bugs.

May Berenbaum, Head of U of Illinois' Dept of Entomology
Credit University of Illinois website

“It’s essentially been in our DNA for millennia.” 

Berenbaum says our manual dexterity and brains evolved from our ancestors seeking out ants or termites from nests, and grubs living under bark.  So crickets aren’t really a big stretch for us to snack on.

“And in most ways, are better suited for the human diet than our more conventional sources of animal meat.  Crickets have all the essential amino acids, it’s very high quality protein.” 

Zoe Anton says the younger someone is, the more receptive they are to eating a cricket.

“One of my friends’ two-and-a-half-year-olds, when we gave some to her to try, she just started taking handfuls and stuffing them into her face. And then when we did a little test between crickets and her Cheerios, she chose the crickets every single time.” 

So let’s go back to the Audubon Society, where we left Joyce Baker ready to try her first cricket.

“Someone should hold my hand," says Baker, resignedly.

“Don’t look at it! Yeah, there you go,” coaches Anton.

Fried cricket, served in Thailand. Many nations across the world consume insects, including crickets.
Credit Blue Delliquanti / Flickr.com

“Num num num num…it tastes a little like sunflower seeds. It’s tasty!” exclaims Baker.

I ask her if she's now a convert.  

“Ahh…well, I’m very curious about how it’d be when it’s ground up into smoothies.”

“Or your next batch of cupcakes.”

“Right, exactly, I’ll surprise people!  They’ll say, “Oh, you put some nuts in this time.” “Noooo, just a few little bugs.” 

Other Audubon Society members liked them, too.  One woman declined, telling the Craft Cricket founders she’d just brushed her teeth. 

Miller and Anton say they’ll keep pushing the benefits of crickets. 

A tell-tale sign of a convert is a sticker they hand people after a successful sample…it simply reads, “I EAT BUGS.”

WEB EXTRA: Reporter Brian Bull eats a few crickets.

Credit KLCC

Craft Cricket co-founder Austin Miller eggs our reporter on to try his wares.  Listen in to gauge Brian's reaction, and what flavor notes he gets out of eating the insects:

WEB EXTRA: Find out what 940,000 crickets listen to to pass the time.

Craft Crickets co-founder Austin Miller makes sure his bugs are intellectually and culturally stimulated on the premises, with a variety of media:

Copyright 2017, KLCC.