I have nothing against insects. Do not tell me that cricket-flour chips are the solution to hunger in the world.
I recently made a trip to Mexico City to visit me, and to my surprise, I found myself eating ant larvae and pupae for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Escamoles is the proper name for these treats, which are about the size of seed pearls, resemble round and semi-translucent tapioca balls, and have an almond-bleached almond taste. Butter. I sampled them in tacos and stews, and in elite concoctions with avocado and ashes.
After consuming many stuffed foods, I concluded that they were sweet and pleasant, but not particularly delicious. Yet, I left grateful for the opportunity to explore this tradition, which has been a staple since the time of the Aztecs.
This merry insect experiment could make you believe that I am now the ideal audience for press releases cluttering my inbox announcing chocolate chip cookies with cricket flour, cricket bars and peanut protein even a version of Doritos coated with cheese powder and cricket.
You would be wrong. I think these products are ridiculous, and I predict that they will fail. I think the argument of these PR people – that people from other cultures are eating bugs and that is the way forward if we want to save lives and the planet – is a fake eighth note.
Highly processed foods are not good for you, be it finely ground corn inside a protein bar or finely ground cricket flour inside a tortilla. We now have tons of data showing a correlation between these processed foods and chronic diseases – especially obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Humans are simply destined to eat whole foods: clusters of Swiss chard, eggs with yellow and white parts together, whole beans intact.
We do not just feed, after all. What we eat affects our microbiome, the few billion bacteria that help us get the most out of our meals. When scientists examine the microbiomes of people who eat highly processed foods, they discover a completely different bacterial ecosystem than people who eat mostly whole foods.
This makes me think that there are microbiome critters that feed on microscopically milled flours and readily available sugars – those that are associated with chronic health problems – and that drive the guys out of the healthy microbiome .
Or it may have to do with the fact that the gentiles need the indigestible parts (for humans) of whole foods to thrive. Removing the sound of oats, apple peel, pea skin, and maybe even the cricket head, may mean nothing to you, but this may be essential for little ones auxiliaries of your digestive tract.
If the microbiome is not damaged because of the good things that are removed from foods during treatment, it could be compromised by pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other poisons used to grow and process food . According to the Environmental Working Group, the people who publish the Dirty Dozen list every year, farmers apply about 300 pounds of pesticides to every acre of strawberries grown conventionally, leaving a lot of residue after harvest.
We have all heard of chemicals pumped into farm chickens to prevent disease. It makes me wonder if factory-grown crickets receive the same treatment. I’ve read that crickets that you can buy now in stores are high on artificial foods, which are not designed for the human digestive system.
Then there is the question of turning these insects into edible products. Manufacturers tend to introduce new chemicals into highly processed foods at all stages of production: they make the different flours and oils stable in storage as ingredients, make them extrudable, emulsify them perpetually and make them stable to storage.
All of this is as relevant to wheat flour as it is to cranberry flour, that is, processed foods are processed foods – regardless of their origin. We have evolved as animals over hundreds of thousands of years into a whole food world, and in that time we have co-evolved with microbiome creatures that have used the same healthy fare.
So, for those who tout insect food as a sustainable source of protein and, therefore, a long-term solution to global hunger, I say: The problem of famine-stricken populations in far-off countries is typically lack of food.
Armed conflicts, corrupt dictatorships and weak governments all contribute to the inadequacy of food distribution networks. The World Bank said African nations could feed their people – while reducing poverty and generating growth – if they could function peacefully. Cricket flour, unfortunately, will not do much to help them get there.
But you know who benefits from the spread of cricket-protein bars? People sending press releases and venture capitalists are funding this food trend. We have already tried to feed the world by stimulating corn production in the United States, and all we got was a Connecticut-sized dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, from all fertilizers, pesticides, and so on. Mississippi agricultural chemicals. Meanwhile, African warlords looted corn and used it as currency to harm the most vulnerable.
The way to solve health problems and starvation in the developing world has little to do with the consumption of insects. We all need to eat whole foods, in peace. This is not easy; it’s a slow and steady job.
Am I the biggest disappointment in the world? Perhaps.
I recommend however to try the escamoles if you are in Mexico City. Go to one of the markets and see them in their raw glory – pale as ivory and expensive as caviar. The Aztec culture is beautiful and deserves to be revered and celebrated.
Also, if you go to Sweden, try herring and rutabaga. Do not try to tell me that turning herring into Doritos will solve hunger in the world, because I do not buy it.
Written by Dana Moskowitz Grumdahl
Originally published on Experience Life