You Should Eat a Cricket: It's Far Less Gross Than What's in Most American Food

Eating crickets may be better than consuming most of what's available in American supermarkets.

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Organic dates, peanuts, organic raw honey, brown cricket... so reads an ingredient list for Chapul's Chaco Bars. 

Chapul is just one of a growing number of food businesses selling edible insects for human consumption. Chapul grinds its cricket protein into flour, allowing consumers to reap the health benefits of the cricket meat without the satisfying crunch of biting into an entire grasshopper taco, as can be found at New York's Tacombi

This is nothing new. Humans have been eating insects since prehistoric times, continuing through ancient Greek and Roman tradition and persisting as a traditional food for many cultures in Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to National Geographic

Aren't crustaceans just giant underwater bugs? Would people be so eager to eat lobsters if they crawled around suburban backyards? 

Think biting into a cricket is far off for you? Check out the FDA's sanitation and transportation standards, which states the limits for insect fragments, larvae and even rodent hair in processed food. One rodent hair in under 100 grams of chocolate? Totally fine. Four-hundred-seventy-five insect fragments in less than 50 grams of ground pepper? No biggie. When it comes to preprocessed foods, standards are lax, at best, for what can go into these huge batches of edible mass. 

While many may gag at the thought of eating a bug, Americans pump their body full of many more unsightly chemicals and compounds on the regular. Before snubbing a hugely sustainable (and to many, tasty) source of protein, you should think twice about your yoga mat sandwich bread. Antifreeze, human hair, coal tar, rodent hair and feces, silicone, arensic and beaver anal glands are just some ingredients you'll find in commercially produced food. All of these ingredients are disguised as unrecognizable chemical names that sound, well, edible. 

Amino acid, for example, sounds like a perfectly natural ingredient. And it is, for the most part. But this shelf life prolonger found in most packaged breads is derived from feathers, animal hair and even human hair, claimed to be swept off barber shop floors in China, according to Mother Jones also points out that L-cysteine, another name for the amino acid, can come from animal sources but can also be created in a lab, and added to items like packs of hamburger buns for fast food chains to prevent spoilage. Is a chemical allowing you to eat month-old bread really much better than consuming crickets? 

A scandal about the popular cinnamon whiskey Fireball using antifreeze as an ingredient broke out in fall 2014, leaving plenty of shot-taking tailgaters perplexed about what they were actually getting drunk on. Fireball doesn't use actual antifreeze in its boozy concoction, but propylene gycol, a component in antifreeze, is used in the American version of the drink. U.S. law doesn't require that alcohol manufacturers print ingredients or nutrition info on the label (like packaged food), but when Norway, Sweden and Finland received shipments of the whisky containing the chemical, they refused to sell this formula. The FDA says propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” to consume, so it can't be much worse than crickets, right? 

Castoreum, the dried and macerated castor sac scent glands (and their secretions) from male or female beavers, is also recognized as generally safe by the FDA. The ingredient is used as flavoring and fragrance in foods like ice cream, but why is anyone messing around with beavers' behinds when they can just make good, totally natural ice cream?

Natural flavoring, an ingredient found on food labels from ice cream to crackers to frozen vegetables, is yet another suspicious and potentially disgusting commonplace ingredient. Everything from crushed beetle shells to who knows what can be labeled as natural if it follows fairly arbitrary FDA standards. So yes, crickets may be part of the natural flavoring of your favorite candy bar and you may never know. 

When it comes to eating, being informed is better than staying in the dark. A small-batch, chocolate-dipped cricket may not be much worse than a commercially manufactured chocolate bar. 

Melissa Kravitz is a writer in New York City who writes about food and culture for First We Feast, Thrillist, Elite Daily, Edible, and other publications. 

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