Humans have been eating insects for centuries. They are a plentiful and resource-efficient source of protein. And pretty gross.

Eighty percent of the world’s people regularly eat edible insects as part of everyday normal diets. In Mexico, chapulines are popular and on the table are stir-fried red tree ants in Cambodia. In Japan, inago (grasshoppers) and hachinoko (bee larvae) are eaten. Order some casu marzu in Italy and you’re getting insect protein.

Insects provide lots of protein, iron and omega-3 acids and are very low in cholesterol and fat. But there is that psychological part to get past.

It’s not that the average American needs more protein. We consume about twice as much protein as nutritionists recommend. But our sources of protein are pretty limited, and the sources are often unhealthy and inefficient to produce.

Our global population continues to expand from 6 billion in 2000 to 7 billion today and probably 9-10 billion within our lifetimes. That puts a lot of pressure on our land and even more on water resources.

To feed cattle, pigs and chickens we use tremendous amounts of water and land. It’s rather shocking to consider that 92% of all freshwater consumed is absorbed by agriculture. A hamburger has the same greenhouse gas impact as driving a Toyota Corolla for 10 miles. Our water sources are already laced with antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

Soy and whey protein are two popular alternatives to meat, but they still rely on resource-intensive agriculture. For some people, they expose us to unhealthy levels of phytoestrogens and trigger dairy allergies.

i got exposed to the idea of protein/energy bars made from insect flour from a news article. Using insects (mostly crickets) in flour form gets rid of the crunching-a-bug part of the psychological block most of us have to the idea of eating insects.

The company that seems to be getting a lot of attention is Chapul Bars. They are not pure insect flour. They also have dates, peanuts, dark chocolate, a bit of agave nectar or lime, coconut and ginger. The bars come in peanut butter, chocolate and Thai flavors.

Chapul’s flavors are inspired by cultures where insects have historically been part of a healthy diet. They donate 10% of profits to water conservation projects in those regions.

Cricket farms are efficient as crickets need very little water to live and eat mostly agricultural by-products, like corn husks and broccoli stalks.

Pat Crowley is co-founder and spokesperson for Chapul, which is based in Salt Lake City. They launched in 2012. It is interesting that Crowley has a degree in hydrology and had worked in water management and conservation. he was inspired by a 2011 podcast about insects as nutritious and eco-friendly food sources. He was hit by the idea that insects convert grain and grass into edible protein as much as 10 times more efficiently than cows and pigs.

He recruited two friends to be the chef and run the business end of things, and they set out to create an all-natural snack made with cricket protein. They don’t farm the crickets themselves but use a cricket supplier from California. They used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise $16,000 in 18 days.

They don’t hide the cricket factor – the bars’ wrappers have crickets and say “The Original Cricket Bar.” I found them in a store in New York City. If you didn’t know it was cricket, you wouldn’t flinch.

Right now they are in less than a hundred health-food types of stores, but the company is hoping to move into larger retails outlets like Whole Foods and Starbucks.

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