by Jessica R. Manly
A growing movement of nutritionists, sustainability researchers, activists, and alternative foodies are calling edible insects the food group of the future. In America, one of the biggest hurdles remains how to get people to take a bite. These simple blender pancakes are an easy, delicious way to dip your toe into the radical world of entomophagy.
Before coming to the Friedman School, I taught nutrition, cooking, and gardening in several public elementary schools in northwest Montana. Many of the children I worked with were absolutely thrilled to try the kale, spinach, and carrots we grew together outside their classrooms. Others, no matter how many songs we sang, or smoothies we made, or stories we read about friendly vegetables, simply would not take a single bite.
What people choose to eat (and not to eat) is deeply personal, cultural, familial, and emotional. These daily choices are sometimes governed by necessity, ease, and are often immutable. When you really pause to try, it can be difficult to unravel the complicated web of nutritional knowledge, inherited tastes, cultural reinforcement, economic constraints, and effects of globalization that compose our plates. Why do you eat cows but not whales? Why kale now, but not ten years ago? Why lobsters, but not crickets? And what would it take for you to want to chew on an entirely new class of the animal kingdom?
Eating insects, or entomophagy, has many potential nutritional and sustainability benefits when compared to meat consumption. A two-tablespoon serving of ground cricket powder provides 55 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, less than one gram of carbohydrate, and a hefty dose of B vitamins (23% of the Daily Value B-2 and 17% of the Daily Value B-12). Reported sustainability benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions when compared to ruminants, pork, and poultry, low land and water requirements, high feed conversion efficiencies, organic by-product waste reduction, and potential utility as feed for livestock and in aquaculture. A 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessment of insect consumption and global food and feed security reports that nearly two billion people consume over 1,900 species of insects as part of traditional diets.
So why are crickets and mealworms still such a fringy snack choice in America? As a friend said recently: “eating bugs is just gross.” In fact, many of us (the author included) were reprimanded against doing so as children. Cultural barriers remain the largest hurdle for expanding insect consumption in America, in addition to lingering questions about scaling production, the environmental impacts of cricket feed, and concerns about access and affordability.
I buy my cricket protein online because it is still relatively hard to find on shelves in Boston. A friend of mine who works for a ubiquitous natural foods grocery store says they don’t stock insect protein because they don’t yet know how to apply their animal welfare ranking system—apparently they “don’t mess around with cricket welfare.”
Another common objection is to the pungent, nutty flavor pure cricket protein powder can have. As a result, most products sold in the West attempt to mask the taste, and any evidence of actual insects, in high-flavor, processed snack foods with questionable nutritional profiles and plenty of added fats and sugars. Though I don’t personally find the taste or smell of cricket powder offensive, I understand the reluctance to consume it straight-up, especially as a novice. As we work towards culturally normalizing insect consumption in the U.S., experimenting with variations on delicious, familiar, and nutrient-dense recipes will be key. I think these easy blender pancakes are a great place to start.
1/4 cup raw rolled oats
2 tablespoons cricket protein powder
1/4 cup blueberries (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
- Blend all ingredients except blueberries on high in blender until smooth (approximately 15 seconds).
- Heat a lightly oiled (butter, coconut oil, or vegetable oil of choice) griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
- Add blueberries if using. Flip, brown on both sides, and serve hot as is, or with maple syrup or plain yogurt and additional cinnamon.
1/2 cup cooked sweet potato or winter squash can be substituted for the banana. If you want to get really fancy, add in a few pumpkin or chia seeds with the blueberries for extra protein.
Jessica Manly is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment MSc student at the Friedman School. When she is not researching food and agriculture systems with the potential to mitigate climate change, she is most likely running in the woods with her imaginary dog, or trying to get people to eat her unusual vegetable (or insect)-based recipes.