Hey, America: Edible insects just might be the next tasty taboo headed for your plate.

Walk into a high-end restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico, and you might see chapulines, or grasshoppers, on the menu.

In Mexico and many countries around the world, it's not unusual to see a variety of bugs on the menu. Chapulines can be served casually, as bar snacks, or as street food, but they also make appearances in more upscale cuisine.

"Plenty of high-end restaurants, especially in Oaxaca, serve chapulines," said Myles Snider, an American cook who trained in Mexico City and has worked in restaurants in Tulum.


Chapulines, served casually as a snack. Image via iStock.

The attitude toward serving insects as food there differs from the United States.

"It's far more normalized here," said Snider. "I think people acknowledge that it's an insect, so they know foreigners might have reservations about eating it, but mostly people just realize that they're delicious."

In the U.S., most of us aren't used to encountering insects on the menu. Could — and should — they become part of our normal fare?

If you're like me, the mere mention of eating bugs triggers an instant reaction of disgust. But what is it about eating bugs, exactly, that we protest?

Disgust is a response that our body uses to prevent us from doing things that are bad for us. We've been taught since we were children that bugs are "yucky," so the idea putting them in our mouths is something that our body naturally rejects.

So it follows that in Western culture, entomophagy (as the pros call it) has developed a stigma associating it with poverty and poor living conditions, since we assume that cultures relying on what we consider "yucky" as a primary source of food must be doing so out of desperation. But that's not so!

The reality is that insects are a regular part of the human diet all over the world, not only in lower socioeconomic strata. They just haven’t really broken the boundary onto the palate of the American people — yet. Insects have a lot to offer, though, so it might be worth considering adding them to your grocery list this week!

See? Simba gets it. GIF via "The Lion King."

Here are 14 things edible insects have going for them, in the U.S. and abroad.

1. It's much easier to farm crickets than it is to farm cows. While livestock require land, feed, and equipment — all of which cost quite a bit — insects are scavengers and can basically subsist on their own.

Entomologist Yupa Hamboosong inspecting crickets raised on a farm in Vientiane, Laos. Photo by Hoang Dinh Ham/AFP/Getty Images.

2. Insect farms can be scaled to any size and can consist of as little as a breathable container, a damp towel, and food scraps or compost. That means that anyone can be an insect farmer, no matter their financial status.

3. Since geography isn't as much of a factor in insect farming, the growth potential for it as an industry isn't limited by location. A boom in insect farming could benefit cities as much as rural areas.

4. Since the food industry is often able to remain relatively stable in times of economic crisis, insect farming could bring increased job reliability to areas that aren't conducive to traditional farming.

5. Adding insects to the global diet could help solve world hunger. Insects are a nutrient-rich source of protein that can be grown locally in any environment — no other livestock product or crop provides the same benefits at such a low cost of maintenance.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

6. Insect farming is environmentally friendly. Since insects require so little to thrive, they place significantly less strain on finite global resources like grain, water, and real estate.

7. Meat production puts a huge strain on the global water shortage; one pound of beef requires nearly 2,000 gallons of water. By contrast, cricket farmers like Big Cricket Farms assert that producing a pound of crickets requires only a single gallon of water.

8. The water footprint of crickets is so small, in fact, that some places like Bitwater Farms are finding it can be met with rainwater alone.

9. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's major report on the topic, insects require less feed than any other animal protein, like cattle and pigs. (This fact has been contested specific to crickets, as a 2015 study found that the feed-to-meat ratio can vary greatly based on crickets' appetites.) Feed-to-meat conversion rates as reflected by the FAO estimate one pound of edible beef requires about nine pounds of feed, while one pound of edible cricket meat needs only about one and a half pounds of feed.

10. Greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lower in insects than in livestock. In a study of farmable insects (mealworms, crickets, locusts, cockroaches, and sun beetles) the insects were found to produce proportionally less carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia than cattle or pigs. By contrast, producing beef has been noted by several scientists to be more harmful to the environment than driving a car. The World Bank calculated in 2010 that producing one kilogram of beef is equivalent to driving 49 miles in a car.

11. Certain types of crickets can have about as much or even up to twice as much protein content as beef, usually with much less fat.

12. Insects can be beneficial as food without ever making it to the human plate, too. Switching to insect-based animal feed to sustain livestock would cut down on the strain that grain production places on land and water resources.

Mealworms, like this little guy, can be easily and efficiently ground into an animal feed that's more enviro-friendly than grain. Herman/Flickr.

13. It's possible to incorporate insects into meals more subtly than simply chomping down on a cicada. Crickets can be ground into a protein flour that can be used in a variety of ways, including baking, as a dietary supplement, or to replace other protein sources like soy.

14. Insect protein has the interest of the start-up world. In 2014, cricket protein bar company Chapul scored a $50K business deal with investor Mark Cuban on "Shark Tank." Other investors are following suit — earlier this year, a similar energy bar company called Exo raised $4 million in its first round of funding.

Crobar is a protein bar made of cricket with cricket flour. Photo by Ton Koene/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP Images.

Insects may be on their way to conquering the world markets, but there's one drawback: Right now, insect protein is still cost-prohibitive for widespread use. Since the number of people farming crickets is still relatively few, the market price of a pound of harvested crickets is still pretty high: A pound costs manufacturers about $4-5. That price would need to fall by about half to make it competitive with livestock meats, soy, and other protein substitutes.

So does this mean our Instagram feeds will soon be full of delectable cricket and grub food creations?

It's possible! Insects aren’t the first food source that were once considered taboo in our country. Raw fish used to strike Americans as disgusting, too — until the sushi craze hit in the 1960s. The exact cause for its rise is unclear, but it’s likely that it had to do with the whirlwind of change that was overtaking a nation ripe for trying new things. The restaurant Kawafuku opened in 1964 and quickly became a Los Angeles hot spot. As celebrities began adopting the “healthy food” trend, sushi appeared in metropolitan cities and eventually made its way across the country.

Could the same thing happen with insects? There's nothing stopping it. Specialty restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago already serve dishes like fried grasshoppers, ant egg salads, and silkworms. And though you won't find them here at street stands or in bars (yet), you don't need to travel to Mexico to get your hands on a chapulín, either — many authentic Mexican restaurants serve the Oaxacan dish stateside.

So while insects still have a ways to go before they conquer the United States, they're definitely gaining traction. Anyone with an adventurous palate and a desire to be ahead of a trend would do well to head to their local entomophagist eatery and try them out. It could be only a matter of time before insects are the next must-have dining experience.

Most Shared
True
Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

Los Angeles is experiencing a homeless epidemic that was years in the making.

Over the past six years, the unhoused population in the city has risen 75 percent. The city's lack of homeless shelters and affordable housing has forced many who can't afford L.A.'s sky-high rents to live on the streets.

According to LAist, since 2000, renter incomes have decreased by 3 percent while rents have gone up 32 percent.

While the city has launched a $100 million-per-year program to help the problem, rapper, entrepreneur, and actor Jaden Smith has found his own way of responding to the crisis: love.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family


Social media may be "ruining society" according to a lot of people's grandparents. But it's also a pretty helpful tool for spotting racists and publicly shaming them. Incidentally, a lot of those racists are also people's grandparents... kinda makes you think, hmmm?

Recently, two elderly white ladies were spotted in a Burger King in Central Florida being racist towards a man who they overheard speaking Spanish. That man turned out to be the manager.

Some nearby customers were filming the incident and posted the video online where it's gone viral. "Go back to Mexico," says one of the women. "If you want to keep speaking Spanish, go back to your Mexican country." She then continues: "this is America. Our main language is English. ... Speak your Mexican at home."

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture