Dried crickets are the new sprinkles.
Well, that's if you consider the activities of actor Nicolas Cage an indicator of what's trending. On Sunday, Cage celebrated his 53rd birthday (albeit, a little belatedly) with a cake topped with the crunchy bugs.
Farming and eating bugs — an American food overhaul — is the key to a brighter, more sustainable future, filmmakers Johanna B. Kelly and Cameron Marshad told Mic. In The Gateway Bug, which premieres Thursday at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the pair documents how making a simple dietary change like swapping a beef burger for cricket-based version could benefit the health of an individual, the environment and the future.
The documentary explores a scope of edible insect innovations across the country to show what's working; it suggests there's never been a more critical time for Americans to embrace eating bugs — starting with the cricket, the eponymous gateway bug.
More than 2 billion people in the world eat insects for protein. For the sake of sustainability (and so much more), the land of the free better hop to it.
Eat crickets for the sake of your health
Call it a superfood if you must — the humble cricket offers up some impressive nutritional stats. Though there's a lot we don't know about how eating insects can benefit us, what we do know is crickets have at least as much protein as beef, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and all nine essential amino acids, according to Kelly.
Indeed, a September 2015 study found these little critters are more nutritious than conventional meat protein like chicken and beef and contain more vitamins and minerals than their four-legged counterparts.
The concept of ditching meat to better one's health is not a new one, but Kelly said resistance to going meatless usually has to do with protein — even though most Americans already get more than enough of the nutrient in their diets. Transitioning from cow to cricket could be a more feasible jump than going vegetarian or vegan, as the protein passionate won't have to stress about building muscle.
"Insects are probably the most sustainable form of protein we have on Earth," Megan Miller, founder of cricket flour company Bitty Foods, told NPR. "The only real barrier to Americans eating insects is a cultural taboo."
While the above numbers show that beef contains nearly twice as much protein as crickets, dried crickets — as NPR reported — boast plenty more protein than do dried meats.
Exo, creator of one of the more well-known cricket protein bars on the market, reports that cricket powder is 65% protein while beef jerky is 33% protein.
Another reason to choose bug over cow? Beef, which contains almost four times as much fat as crickets, has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as a shorter lifespan. Experts often recommend consuming other protein sources to reduce the chances of developing these conditions, and crickets might just be a viable alternative.
Eat crickets for the sake of the environment
It's getting a little crowded on planet Earth. We're running out of room to grow enough food for everyone, and by 2050, the global population is predicted to reach more than 9 billion, Kelly said. According to the U.N., food production would have to increase by 70% to feed all those people. But, as our agricultural processes currently stand, this is nearly impossible.
In come the bugs to save the day. Farming insects for human consumption requires very few resources — and very little land — compared to what livestock and grain products need. Bugs should be raised in vertical farms because "insects, by nature, want to be raised in confined, dark spaces," Kelly said. The nutritional source is at its best in an environment we actually have space for.
And how's this for drama? It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to farm a pound of beef and just about one gallon to farm a pound of crickets, Andrew Brentano, cofounder of cricket farm Tiny Farms, told Marketplace.
In addition, crickets themselves eat much less than chicken and cows, meaning their food takes up less space. An astonishing 50% of grains grown worldwide are fed to livestock.
As Kelly put it, "One billion people are going hungry and we’re feeding grains to cows for westerners to eat." The filmmakers said crickets need approximately 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep to produce the same amount of protein.
Eat crickets for the sake of taste
If you're shaken by the thought of eating alien-like faces and itty, bitty legs — welcome to the club — there's more than one way to include the power of bugs in your diet.
Crickets have a "slightly nutty flavor," according to Kelly, and can add crunchy texture to dishes when fried or roasted (Kentucky fried crickets, anyone?) and a subtle sense of savory when dried and ground into powder form. When cricket flour's in the pantry, more healthful desserts are within reach: Think chocolate-chip cricket cookies, which boast much more protein than your standard milk-dipper, or paleo carrot cake that's grain- and dairy-free.
You can even eat bugs in the form of a chip. A company called Chirps uses crickets in powder form to craft a protein-packed product resembling a tortilla chip.
Crickets and salsa isn't quite yet an appetizer mainstay, but if businessman and Shark Tank celeb Mark Cuban has his way, the snack will soon become a pantry staple. Cuban recently invested $100,000 in Chirps, which Kelly and Marshad said is a sign of times changing in the right direction.
"We’ve watched this grow from an indie, lefty, hobbyist situation to a multimillion-dollar industry in just the last two years," Marshad said.
Cuban also has a financial stake in Chapul, a company that sells cricket-based protein bars and an FDA-approved cricket flour. If his interest is any indication, crickets and other insects are bound to be popping up in products across the supermarket. Cricket-based pastas, bolognese sauce and plenty of cricket performance bars have already made their way into the grocery carts of millions of Americans. It's only a matter of time before American families sit down at the table to share a homemade cricket lasagna.