Six Foods – because six legs are better than four – are one of the more high profile start-ups in the insect food world. Their charismatic founders did a roaring trade on Kickstarter, and then appeared on Shark Tank (the US version of Dragon’s Den). They’re a fun and likeable company, and I think that one of the most interesting facts about them is that they were founded by a vegetarian.
People have different reasons for choosing a vegetarian lifestyle. It may be the overall environmental impact, health concerns, animal welfare or just the thought of killing things for food. Insect foods address all of these concerns. It’s one of several reasons why I think vegetarianism is too limited as an approach to food, and why I’m not a veggie myself. Let’s look at those concerns one at a time.
- Environment: there’s no doubt that the meat industry is a climate disaster, and uses too much land and water. Insects can be raised with a minuscule fraction of the resources. Insects produce 99% fewer carbon emissions compared to beef.
- Health: we eat too much meat in the Western world, and we pay for it in obesity and heart disease. Insects are naturally low in fat and high in protein, and they contain all kinds of other nutrients, from amino acids to vitamins and omega 3. There’s more iron in crickets than in spinach. They really are impressively nutritious.
- Welfare: insects don’t have a central nervous system or pain receptors. It’s overstating it to say that insects don’t feel pain, but if they do experience any kind of suffering, it’s an order of magnitude below what birds or mammals can experience. We should respect every living creature and that’s not a license to do what we like, but humane conditions for insects shouldn’t be hard to achieve.
- Violence: It is an uncomfortable thought that animals have to die for us to eat. You can see that on children’s faces when they’re served lamb. Are insects any different? Realistically, even vegetarians would swat a fly or bug-spray a cockroach. A lot of insects are considered pests, unwelcome at best. Whether it’s a morally consistent position is another question, but most people find insect death less problematic.
So can vegetarians eat insects? Not according to the textbook definition, but that’s the textbook’s problem. A friend of mine who is vegan says he would eat insects, as the objections and issues around meat don’t apply. That’s the view of Laura D’asaro from Six Foods, who describes herself as an ‘entotarian’ – a vegetarian that eats insects.
Six Foods wants to promote insect eating, and they have done so with two main products so far: a cricket flour cookie mix and and tortilla chips. They’re only available in the US at the moment, but I was able to find an online retailer with UK shipping. My wife is a crisp fan. If anything is going to bring her round to the insect eating, it’s these.
I pour out a bowlful of Chirps Chips one evening with dinner. They’re smaller than most tortilla chips, and a shade darker. There’s a good snap to them, a slightly grainy texture with black speckles of chia seeds. They taste great – lightly flavoured with their barbecue seasoning, but still that husky flavour that I know to be crickets. There’s a cricket in each chip, apparently. “Yum” says Eden. Zach agrees.
My wife appears to be enjoying them too, but is still the voice of scepticism: “these are nice, but what’s the point? Why can’t we just eat normal chips?”
A fair question, and the answer is to do with nutrition. A bag of regular tortilla chips offers salty carbohydrates and not much else. A portion of Chirps has the same protein content as an egg white. If they can displace protein that we would have had from meat or dairy, insect based snacks are not a novelty – they’re a genuinely useful sustainable food.