We all know that we should be eating insects. After all, bugs are a dietary staple for billions of people around the globe, and they have a significantly lower environmental footprint than meat. But Americans are still having a tricky time getting over the “ick” factor that comes with munching on crawling critters.
The concept is popular in theory. According to Meticulous Research, the global insects market is expected to be valued at almost $1.2 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 23.8% from 2018. This increase is mainly due to a ballooning population, waning food resources, and a high demand for protein.
All logical arguments aside, a lot of people are still pretty grossed out when it comes to eating bugs. But some influencers — chefs, celebrities, and celebrity chefs — are trying to change that.
“Eating insects is intellectually popular right now, and it’s a great conversation piece,” said Meeru Dhalwala, chef at Vancouver restaurant Vij. “But more chefs need to experiment with insects.”
Some are certainly trying. Rene Redzepi of Noma fame has been known to make liberal use of ants on his menus. Alex Atala, who was on Season 2 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, uses Amazonian insects on his menus. In the commercial sphere, Bitty Foods developed cricket flour cookies in tandem with celebrity chef (and smart kitchen enthusiast) Tyler Florence. Cricket protein bar company Exo, who just got acquired by Aspire Food Group, partnered with chef Kyle Connaughton to develop their creations.
Celebrities are pushing the insect diet, too. Salma Hayek posted a video of herself sampling crickets on Instagram, and has been eating ants and grasshoppers since she was a child. Angelina Jolie cooked up a feast of tarantulas and scorpions in Cambodia for a video on BBC News. Questlove has shared a video of himself eating a cricket-topped salad. And most recently, Nicole Kidman caused ripples across the internet by eating a four-course meal of “micro-livestock” — also known as bugs — for Vanity Fair’s Secret Talent Theatre.
As she works her way through plate after plate of mealworms, hornworms, crickets, and grasshoppers, she points out that 2 billion people around the world eat bugs. “And I’m one of them,” she said.
Kidman genuinely seems to be eating the insects, and even enjoying them. She basically swoons when she opens up her serving platter to revel fried grasshoppers. “These are amazing,” she gushes. “I’d recommend them.”
I’d be curious to see if her performance — or other celebrity’s vocal support for bug consumption — translates to an uptick in ecommerce purchases of insects and insect products.
Personally, I think that insects could find their entrance into the mainstream through the health and exercise food market. Crickets, for example, are 65% protein (compared to beef’s 50%), packed with vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids, and are very low in fat. And when they’re roasted and milled into flour, crickets can be added to a myriad of dishes in a relatively under-the-radar way. A survey by PureGym in the U.K found that 35% of gym-goers were willing to try edible insects. I could see them being used in powdered drink supplements and expanding their presence in the energy bar sector.
As high-protein, low-carb diets grow in popularity, crickets (and other insects) may have found their time to shine. As long as people can channel their inner Nicole Kidman and get over the “ick” factor, first.