Is going meat-free the way to fight climate change? Here, we talk to Crawlers co-founder Dan Craig about the insects crawling into the retail space - and our diets.
According to research done by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, around two billion people around the globe regularly eat insects as part of their diet, with over 1900 species counted as edible.
With current food resources from farms and oceans already constrained, if the world’s population continues to swell – nine billion people are expected to populate the planet by 2050 if growth continues at this rate – we need to find some alternatives.
One alternative proposed by experts is insects. Last year, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Scotland's Rural College explored a scenario where half of the current animal products in the world are replaced by insects, lab-grown meat or imitation meat.
They found that halving global consumption of animal products by eating more insects or imitation meat would free up 1680 million hectares of land, as farming insects requires far less land and energy to produce.
In New Zealand, Crawlers' Dan Craig begun four years ago when him and co-founder Matt Genefaas were traveling through Thailand and came across a farm that sold edible insects.
They decided to take a punt importing them to New Zealand, but soon found the market was so untouched, the MPI, Customs and New Zealand Law had to get together and create a law because Crawlers was the one business importing dead insects for human consumption.
Crawlers’ initial focus was on chocolate, ‘fun’ edible insects that could be given as gifts, Craig says.
Now, it sells a wide range of crickets, silkworms, locusts, grasshoppers, mealworms, ants, scorpions, superworms and tarantulas, boasting one of the world's largest edible insect ranges.
But perhaps most excitingly, it’s moving beyond novelty gifts towards cooking at products that incorporate insects, such as its cricket flour, powders and pasta.
Craig says the world is now looking to insects as an alternative source of protein, as farming them is one of the most sustainable methods of getting it.
“Crawlers has been operating for nearly five years and every year we are seeing more and more open minded Kiwis wanting to know more about insects and why insects as a source of protein for the future,” he says.
“We think consumers resonates more with the amount of protein and nutrients in insects currently, but as time goes on I think it will be a shift in consumers thinking for more of the sustainability reasons behind eating insects or having a plant-based diet.”
When Crawlers won Idealog and Accenture’s Most Creative Wildcard award last year, Craig was admanant insect-based products would become a mainstream staple.
“Two years ago coconut flour wasn't even a thing,” Craig said, “yet now you see it everywhere. It’s the same with us. I give it two years before the supermarket is covered in insect-based products. We’re already beginning to see it.”
Though some might balk at the thought of chowing down on a bug, their nutritional qualities are impressive. They’re high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and mineral content – often more so than their meat counterparts.
“For example, locusts contain 78 percent protein whereas chicken contains 23 percent and there is 2x more b12 in crickets than in salmon. The list goes on and on,” Craig says.
And how does Craig involve the creatures into his day-to-day meals? He says for those wanting to take the plunge, he says the best way to start off is with cricket flour.
Dan Craig and Matt Genefaas
“It is crickets milled into a powder, which you can add it to virtually anything. Add cricket flour to morning smoothies or your favourite recipes to boost your protein and nutrient profiles. If you want to start being adventurous with insects, add cricket or grasshoppers to your stir fries for a bit of crunch.”
But beware: those who eat insects are technically not counted as sticking to a ‘plant-based diet’, as insects are still considered an animal. However, Craig says many vegetarians eat the products due to the sustainability aspect of it.
For those who are bold enough to look beyond just crickets, National Geographic recommends sampling beetles, moths and butterflies, bees and wasps, ants, flies and mosquitos and stinkbugs. Delectable.