There’s always a new super food. Kale. Turmeric. Avocados. Coconut oil. They’ve all made their way into kitchens throughout the country. Could crickets and other insects be the next big thing?
Joy Nemerson would say yes. She’s been eating insects for more than a year.
No, not like "Fear Factor" where contestants would gulp down creepy-crawly, live bugs. Nemerson cooks her bugs and incorporates them into two meals every week.
“You don't eat raw chicken, you don't eat raw cow. You don't just like bite into it,” said Nemerson. “If you put [insects] in a taco, you'd probably eat it.”
And while Nemerson does munch on a handful of seasoned crickets now and then, she usually prefers to use cricket flour or meal worm sauce in other dishes. Pizza, corn muffins and fried rice can all be made with insects, and she calls her specialty recipes “uncomfortable comfort food.”
For Nemerson, it all started with a cricket tortilla chip. She went to a sustainability conference in May 2017 where Chirps Chips passed out samples of their tortilla chips made with cricket flour. After talking with the company’s CEO about the benefits of eating insects, she decided to try it herself.
A year later, she found herself in the back of a restaurant in Mexico eating ants. In Mexico and other parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa, entomophagy, the technical term for eating insects, is common in traditional cuisine. A 2013 report by the United Nations estimated that 2 billion people worldwide eat more than 1,900 species of insects.
“We ate bugs every day in every form and every way,” said Nemerson. “Then when I got back to the US, I was like, ‘I can't stop.’ So I kept going.”
Besides just appreciating the taste (crickets kind of taste like nuts, mealworms taste buttery and like mushrooms), Nemerson eats insects to be more environmentally-conscious and healthy.
In 2017, researchers found that eating insects instead of beef could help tackle climate change by reducing harmful emissions linked to livestock production.
Insects are also surprisingly nutritious. They can be high in protein, amino acids and vitamins. Cricket protein powder companies advertise that their products have “more iron than spinach” and “more calcium than milk.”
One of the downsides, though, is that they can be expensive. On Amazon, a pound of cricket powder can cost up to $40. A snack-sized bag of spicy meal worms and corn costs around $7.
And some nutritionists just don’t think Americans will ever warm up to putting beetles, caterpillars, ants or crickets in their mouths.
“Despite all the environmental and nutritional advantages entomophagy offers, insect eating is unlikely to become a mainstream dining option in Europe or North America anytime in the near future,” said Maria Antonia G. Tuazon, a nutrition and food systems officer for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
But Nemerson truly believes she can convince people to eat insects – because she has. Recently, she made her family brunch with a “bug pizza” as the main dish. They liked it.
“People are into super foods. I would say [insects] are the next super food. Or they are the current super food,” said Nemerson.
Check out Nemerson's Instagram page, @getbuggie, for more recipe ideas.