Why Entomophagy Matters

What is entomophagy? 

I get that question a lot (with the implied “why do you (and should I) care?”), and have worked to reduce my spiel down to an elevator pitch. My goal is to not just define the word, but tell why I care about entomophagy – give a convincing, but simple, explanation of why bugs are the best protein source for ethical and environmental reasons.

So I didn’t quite succeed at creating a quick pitch–there are too many important points to make! I’ll keep working on cutting it down into something that closer resembles an elevator pitch, but for now, here’s my… essay, really, with statistics help from Chapul, Exo, Crik Nutrition, Bitty FoodsBig Cricket Farms, the journal Science, Stanford, and the Coursera course from Johns Hopkins on the US Food system I took a couple years ago (see here, here, and here for relevant notes).

Most meat produced in the US is raised on factory farms, where animals are crammed together in cramped and dirty housing–a hardship for both animals and workers–and which pollute water, air, and soil, and drive down neighboring property values. *

Factory farmed animals are pumped full of antibiotics, chemicals, and hormones, and some farms feed industrial waste containing heavy metals to the animals. The sketchy things fed to food animals are later absorbed by human consumers. Remember, “you are what what you eat eats.” (Michael Pollan) Antibiotic misuse on factory farms breeds resistant strains of bacteria, which are transported off the farm via trucks, workers, meat, fertilizer, and even birds, and cause difficult-to-treat infections in humans. **


(credit: wongaboo; license)

Raising animals in industrial systems is extremely water- and land-intensive. ***

As the global need for protein continues to rise, the industrial farming system becomes less and less sustainable. Insects, specifically crickets, can be a nutritionally, ethically, and environmentally superior protein source to conventional meat.

Crickets are an excellent source of protein and nutrients. They are lower in fat, and higher in iron and magnesium than beef, and are a complete protein source: they contain all nine amino acids essential to human and animal diets.

The environmental footprint of a cricket farm is minuscule compared to an industrial farm system. Pound for pound, crickets produce 1% as many greenhouse gases as cows and three times less waste. Crickets need 8% of the feed and water as cows to produce the same amount of protein, and are much more efficient as a protein source than cows: 100 lbs of feed produces 50-60 lbs of edible cricket protein, vs 5 lbs of edible beef. **** A cricket farm requires 2000x less land than a cow farm.

Crickets have a much shorter life span, and can be harvested at 6 weeks, which is much faster than cows at 18 months. North American farms raising crickets for human consumption feed organic diets without hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides (of course). Crickets are harvested humanely by dropping the ambient temperature to put them into a dormant hibernation-like state, and from there they’re deep-frozen. *****

People in poor countries need access to iron- and protein-rich meat sources, and a resilient system for growing it. Cricket farming could help solve that problem. According to the UN, if edible insects become a part of the mainstream global diet, we can reduce greenhouse gases by 18%, and lower the average cost of food globally by 33%. Other cultures all over the world eat bugs, and Americans are already eating bug parts at some levels in processed foods. Insect protein is the future, so you might as well start embracing it now!

fried insects

(credit: shankar slicense)

For easy entry into the world of eating bugs, try cricket energy and meal replacement bars, cricket baked goods, and cricket protein powder from Exo, Chapul, Bitty Foods, and Crik Nutrition. For 10% off Exo bars, use code HAUTEPASTURE at checkout!

I had a lot of trouble limiting myself to a length that would make for a somewhat effective elevator pitch; hence, the asterisks above, for the following elaborations:

* Most people are aware of the terrible conditions for animals on factory farms, but the conditions can be horrible for workers too: exposure to chemicals, waste gases, particulates, hard labor, and illegals with no rights often must endure abusive hiring practices.

** Factory farms pollute water with waste storage failures and illegal dumping directly into waterways; air pollution comes from gases, particulates, and animal dander, and soil is polluted when waste is applied to land as fertilizer. For industrially produced meat products, the ratio of fossil fuel energy input to food energy produced out can be as high as 35:1, with beef produced in feedlots generally having the most unfavorable ratio.

*** 7% of global water is used to grow grain for livestock, and meat production uses 70% of farmland, 30% of Earth’s surface, and 40% grain grown globally. Meat production is an inefficient use of grain, water, and land: it takes 1000 kg water to produce 1 kg of grain. The grain required to produce 100 kg of beef, pork, and poultry is 700 kg, 650 kg, and 260 kg respectively. So, for beef, it takes 7000 kg of water to make 1 kg of beef.

**** Crickets require about one gallon of water per pound, about 2000x less than cows, 800x less than pigs, 500x less than chickens, 350x less than eggs, even 200x less than vegetables.

***** Usually then they’re boiled to clean them and remove wings and legs, and dried and pulverized into powder. Cricket powder alone is not very tasty, so it’s combined with other powders for cricket flour for baking, or protein powder for supplements.

Recent reads about food, farming, and health

Local Foods: From Fad To Force And What It Means For The Food Industry


“The trend has gone viral, as consumers are voting ‘local’ with their dollars and having a profound influence on the nation’s food systems. Their enthusiasm has led suppliers, grocers and restaurants to change and adapt by adding locally produced goods to their offerings year-round.”

What you need to know about P90X, Insanity, Weight Watchers, Shakeology, Cleanses, and Nutrisystem


A quick comparison of the trendy quick-fix diet/fitness products–what works and what doesn’t.

Local to the extreme: This project puts the farm right in the grocery store


“Three days a week in downtown Raleigh, N.C., fans of fresh fruits and veggies can pick up their local tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, potatoes, squash, and blackberries inside a 200-square-foot shipping container… In the 8,000-square-foot, scaled-up version, Greene imagines an open bottom floor that would hold the main grocery and a café for selling drinks and deli meats. Above that, eight shipping containers supported by beams and equipped with side panels for growing herbs and greens, nourished by what Greene calls the “Living River Growing System” — a raceway tank that looks and acts like a stream, filtering and channeling nutrient-filled water to the seven-foot-high growing panels. On top of all this would sit a greenhouse roof.”

These maps show where all the world’s cattle, chickens, and pigs are


“The Earth currently has 19.6 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, and 980 million pigs. If you added up all the world’s livestock, they’d weigh more than humans and all other wild animals combined….These maps are useful for tracking the environmental impact of ever-expanding livestock production as well as keeping tabs on the potential spread of disease like avian flu.”

Widespread impacts of neonicotinoids ‘impossible to deny’


“The scientists say the threat to nature is the same as that once posed by the notorious chemical DDT.” Neonicotinoids could be poisoning bees, and aquatic invertebrates, which are the basis of many food chains. Their use in a prophylactic way is compared to antibiotics abuse in farm animals.

Why the locavore movement’s next big move is seafood


“Something like 86 percent of America’s seafood intake is imported (most of that is farmed), while we send away most of our own wild-caught fish.”

“We eat more shrimp than almost the next two most popular seafoods combined (salmon and canned tuna)”

“[Alaska] by far produces more seafood than any other state, probably by an order of magnitude.”

“I was trying to figure out if there was a Michael Pollan-esque line like ‘eat food, not too much, mostly plants.’ The best I could come up with was: ‘Eat American seafood, a much wider variety than we currently do, mostly filter feeders.'”

16 Things That Affect Your Gut Bacteria


Foods (red wine! dark chocolate!), sunshine, exercise, antibiotics, probiotics, Roundup (in GMO soy and corn and CAFO animal products), smoking, time, dirt

Hints from Haute Pasture

Today’s hint is courtesy of State Farm. I don’t usually read the little magazines they mail customers to remind you that they care, but for some reason I read the most recent issue, and was pleased to see “A Greener Green: Eight time-saving penny-pinching, eco-friendly ways to get the lawn you want.”

Suggestion #1 jumped out at me as I have been reading about this problem on farms. As do farmers on their fields, homeowners often overuse fertilizers and pesticides on their lawns, and the overage runs off into waterways. The chemicals can be toxic to fish, and the fertilizers promote algae growth, crowding out fish and sucking up the oxygen from the water. Instead, homeowners (and farmers!) should use natural fertilizers and pesticides which won’t contribute chemicals to the rivers and oceans.

See related posts here and here.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma QotD

(From Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture, p. 197-198)

In fact, grassing over that portion of the world’s cropland now being used to grow grain to feed ruminants would offset fossil fuel emissions appreciably. For example, if the sixteen million acres now being used to grow corn to feed cows in the United States became well-managed pasture, that would remove fourteen billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.

Moral: consumers have the ability to create change through purchase power. Make a difference by avoiding corn-fed beef and support your local farmers who raise cows on pasture.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma QotD

(From Big Organic chapter, p. 183)

The food industry burns nearly a fifth of all the petroleum consumed in the United States (about as much as automobiles do). Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate. And while it is true that organic farmers don’t spread fertilizers made from natural gas or spray pesticides made from petroleum, industrial organic farmers often wind up burning more diesel fuel than their conventional counterparts: in trucking bulky loads of compost across the countryside and weeding their fields, a particularly energy-intensive process involving extra irrigation (to germinate the weeds before planting) and extra cultivation. All told, growing food organically uses about a third less fossil fuel than growing it conventionally, according to David Pimentel, though that savings disappears if the compost is not produced on site or nearby.

Moral of the story: eat local foods! Another bonus–food that travels less distance will be fresher and tastier!

Industrial agriculture is killing our fisheries

Nitrogen and phosphorus from industrial farming and chicken factories is washing into the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico and over-fertilizing algae. The enormous algae blooms take over fish habitats and consume all the oxygen, making hypoxic zones where no aquatic life can survive.

Your Chicken Nuggets Are Killing Your Crab Cakes

The primary source of the chemicals is industrial corn farms in the Midwest, and factory chicken farms in the Mid-Atlantic.

Industrial corn farms over-apply fertilizers to their fields. The crops cannot absorb the entire amount, and rains carry the residual chemical from the corn farms into the Mississippi, which deposits them in the Gulf of Mexico, where they feed the algae bloom.

The chicken factories on the Delmarva Peninsula produce a huge amount of nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich manure, too much of which is washed into the Chesapeake Bay.

I think the title of the linked article sums it up nicely. If you, like me, enjoy Maryland crab cakes or Louisiana shrimp gumbo, stop eating factory-farmed chicken and processed corn-containing products!


Factory Fish Farms

From TakePart.com:

Big Time Factory Fish Farming Coming to U.S. Shores

The good news:

Trader Joe’s, pushed hard by Greenpeace and others, says that by the end of 2012 it will offer only sustainable fish in its 365 stores. Previously the company has eliminated heavily overfished Chilean Sea Bass, Orange Roughy, and Red Snapper from its refrigerators.

The bad news: The government is on the verge of expanding off-shore fish farming to support consumers’ increased demand, and reduce American reliance on imported fish. Greater numbers of fish farms means more pollution–the article says the pollution from fish waste, uneaten food, antibiotics, parasites, and other byproducts will be equal to sewage generated by 17 million people. If genetically-modified farmed fish escape and breed with wild fish, it can weaken the native stock. Carnivorous fish require smaller wild fish as food, so feeding greater numbers of farmed fish depletes the supply of wild feeder fish. Expanding farming into the oil-saturated Gulf of Mexico has unknown health repercussions for consumers. The negatives are numerous when fish farming is careless, and it’s important for the government to enforce sustainable practices… which can be said for all types of farming!

It’s hard to be a responsible fish consumer these days. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a helpful site — and smartphone apps! — to help shoppers choose sustainably-caught fish that are low in toxins. Here are what they consider the best choices, as of last fall:

  • Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
  • Oysters (farmed)
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
  • Rainbow Trout (farmed)
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
  • Arctic Char (farmed)
  • Barramundi (farmed, from the U.S.)
  • Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
  • Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
  • Mussels (farmed)

Sustainable Sushi has another list to help sushi eaters navigate a menu.

So, please ask where your fish came from and how it was caught, and avoid the 4 fish on Sustainable Sushi’s “4 Fish We Just Shouldn’t Eat” list: Bluefin tuna, Orange roughy, Shark, and Chilean sea bass.

Defeat for Big Corn?

News from the NRDC blog: Senate votes overwhelmingly to end corn ethanol subsidies

  • The amendment will end three decades of subsidies to the corn ethanol industry and save taxpayers several billion dollars.
  • The VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit) [cost] taxpayers $6 billion this year alone and [gave] almost nothing in return in domestic ethanol production or industry jobs above and beyond what is already mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard
  • [The VEETC] comes at the expense of developing the new and cleaner advanced biofuels we need to create jobs, increase our energy security and address global warming.

We wanted to see if Michael Pollan had written anything recently about ethanol subsidies, and read this article from 2006:


  • The way we grow corn in this country consumes tremendous quantities of fossil fuel: Every bushel of corn grown in America has consumed the equivalent of between a third and a half gallon of gasoline.
    • Corn receives more synthetic fertilizer than any other crop, and that fertilizer is made from fossil fuels — mostly natural gas.
    • Corn also receives more pesticide than any other crop, and most of that pesticide is made from petroleum.
    • To plow or disc the cornfields, plant the seed, spray the corn and harvest it takes large amounts of diesel fuel
    • To dry the corn after harvest requires natural gas.
  • Distill[ing] the corn into ethanol, an energy-intensive process that requires still more fossil fuel. Estimates vary, but they range from two-thirds to nine-tenths of a gallon of oil to produce a single gallon of ethanol. (The more generous number does not count all the energy costs of growing the corn.) Some estimates are still more dismal, suggesting it may actually take more than a gallon of fossil fuel to produce a gallon of our putative alternative to fossil fuel.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, it will cost U.S. taxpayers $120 for every barrel of oil saved by making ethanol.
  • The federal government offers a tax break of 54 cents for every gallon of ethanol produced
  • At the same time, the government protects domestic ethanol producers by imposing a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol
  • Ethanol is just the latest chapter in a long, sorry history of clever and profitable schemes to dispose of surplus corn: there was corn liquor in the 19th century; feedlot meat starting in the 1950’s and, since 1980, high fructose corn syrup.

This all reminds us of a t-shirt we saw recently: http://www.goodjoe.com/Store/Product.aspx?id=66. It’s not clear from the creator’s description if she is making a statement about the large quantity of corn products found in the composition of the average American body…



Happy Earth Day!

On Earth Day, let’s pause to consider why sustainable farming is good for our planet. (There are other benefits of sustainable agriculture that are not environmental, but today, let’s focus on Earth!)

  • Soil: Factory farms abuse the land, overusing it without resting the soil, and douse it with chemicals in an attempt to replenish the soil’s nutrients. Sustainable farms carefully manage soils to increase nutrients and prevent erosion, through crop rotation and diversification, the use of manure, mulch, and other natural enhancers and protectors, and the planting of cover crops. Crop rotation and diversification naturally enrich the soil and keep crops healthier, without the use of chemical fertilizer. Manure and mulch increase soil moisture and biomass, and protect the soil. Cover crops increase the nitrogen in the soil, which is accomplished in conventional farming through the application of chemicals; cover crops also reduce erosion by creating a buffer between soil and rainfall, and their root systems anchor the soil in place.
  • Water: Large commercial farms contaminate water supplies with nitrogen, salt, and other fertilizer chemicals; pesticides; and animal waste. They also consume large quantities of water. Sustainable farms may use cover crops to increase the nitrogen content of the soil, thereby eliminating the need for nitrogen enhancements via water-contaminating chemicals. Cover crops can also be used for pest control, replacing chemical pesticides. “Trap crops” attract pests away from cash crops, and “habitat augmentation” uses cover crops that attract pests’ natural predators. Sustainable farms recycle animal waste back into the land as a fertilizer, rather than allowing it to pollute waterways. The rate of water consumption is less on sustainable farms than on conventional farms, as sustainable farming creates moister soil that is better equipped to retain water.
  • Air: Large farms contribute to declining air quality by emitting toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the air, spraying pesticides, and trucking shipments long distances. Decomposing manure tanks or lagoons emit gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane into the atmosphere. Methane, which is a greenhouse gas, is also released from cows as they digest corn-based diets, which their systems aren’t built to digest. Sustainable farming practices rely on alternative pest-control techniques that don’t spray chemicals into the air. Farms that sell their produce locally require less fossil-fuel-based energy to transport their wares than farms that ship food to far-off places. And sustainable farms that feed animals diets based on foods they would eat in nature relieve the chronic indigestion that leads to massive amounts of methane production.
  • Wildlife: The wildlife that lives in soil may not get as much publicity, but it’s just as important. Healthy soil that is sustainably farmed hosts countless critters such as earthworms, arthropods, and bacteria. Sustainable farming is safer for fish, which are killed when runoff from factory farms pollutes streams. Wildlife drinking from waterways polluted by animal waste or fertilizer runoff from factory farms can be harmed by chemicals or pathogens. Fewer insects in the soil means less food for birds. The creation of huge factory farms displaces animal populations and destroys habitats, while sustainable farms with diversified plantings create an environment that encourages the growth of native plant, insect, and animal populations.
  • Energy conservation: Sustainable farms are less dependent on non-renewable energy sources, in particular petroleum, than large-scale agricultural businesses. They use fewer chemicals, which require a tremendous amount of fossil fuel-produced energy to manufacture. Sustainable farms generally do not produce processed foods, which take more energy to produce than whole foods. Farms that raise pasture-fed animals conserve energy by letting the animals do the work of spreading manure and feeding themselves.

So celebrate Earth Day by eating some locally grown produce and pasture-raised meat! If you’re lucky, like we are here at Haute Pasture, you can raise a glass of local wine with your meal!

Sources: UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Sustainable Table, Cover Crops, Helium.com, Myth Six: Industrial Agriculture Benefits the Environment and Wildlife, Wildlife Friendly Farming Guide

Can industrial agriculture feed the world?

A recent article on alternet.org (What Would the World Look Like If We Relied on Industrial Agriculture to Feed Everyone?) explores what the world might look like if industrial agriculture is chosen as the worldwide solution to feeding the hungry. Popular belief holds that industrial agriculture is the only viable solution for keeping people fed as the global population explodes; but that doesn’t take into account the significant drawbacks, including contribution to global warming, soil nutrient depletion, water over-consumption, and the loss of small family farms.

An example is cited: Punjab, India, which saw a big increase in wheat production in the 1970s from the use of industrial agriculture:

But according to a 2007 report put out by the Punjab State Council for Science & Technology, “Over-intensification of agriculture over the years has led to water depletion, reduced soil fertility and micronutrient deficiency, non-judicious use of farm chemicals and problems of pesticide residue, reduced genetic diversity, soil erosion, atmospheric and water pollution and overall degradation of the rather fragile agro ecosystem of the state.”

Indian farmers who fell into debt while trying to compete with the industrial agriculture companies sometimes saw suicide as the only way out: “Since 1997, over 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide.”

Conversely, local farms practicing sustainable agriculture would be kinder to the environment and a boon to their communities. This sums up the argument nicely:

Agroecology is not a return to some traditional past, it is the cutting edge of farming. It mimics nature in the field, and uses resource-saving techniques that can be of greatest benefit to cash-strapped farmers and to women, for whom access to credit is most difficult, and who cannot afford to run high levels of debt.”

The bold is ours–what an important concept! That and other points raised here were covered in a talk we recently attended by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Stay tuned for a post about that!