THE BLOG

Insects: the food trend that's changing palates and lives the world over

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Have you heard about the next big food trend? You won't find it growing in your garden, but you might find it crawling there.

Across America, a growing number of restaurants are getting into what food bloggers say will be the next top food trend.

Got a hankering for Mexican food with a real healthy crunch? Head to New York's Toloache restaurant and order some "chauplines" or grasshopper tacos. Maybe Asian fusion cuisine is more your forte. In that case, try the Taiwanese crickets at Typhoon in Santa Monica, Cali. If you want something with a little more sting, take a chance on the restaurant's Singapore-style scorpions.

It may be a stretch to imagine noshing on a bag of chocolate-covered crickets while chilling out with Netflix. But a meal of bugs is high in protein and essential nutrients, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The group encourages Westerners to get on the bug bandwagon.

Palm weevils, for instance, contain two times more dietary zinc than beef, as well as higher amounts of iron and healthy fats. And while the nutritional value of bugs is undeniably big, the environmental footprint of insect farming isn't. Insect farms require much less land and resources like water, and they produce far lower levels of greenhouse gases than traditional livestock farms.

From Asia to South America, insects have long appeared on the menu in many cultures. But what's truly epic about the edible bug trend is its potential to not only provide a healthy source of food, but also boost incomes among people in developing countries who could never afford chicken or beef from a grocery store.

Owusu, a stone mason in Ghana's central Ashanti region, is a great example of how insects can transform lives. Surgery left him unable to do heavy labour, and with no other job skills, Owusu couldn't put food on the table for his wife and five children.

Then he heard about Aspire, a social enterprise that won the prestigious Hult Prize for its world-changing plan to tackle chronic malnutrition in developing communities. Aspire teaches people to farm palm weevils--small insects that are a staple food in Ghana. Owusu got a starter kit from Aspire and within mere weeks he was earning a living wage.

In the open-air market of Owusu's home village of Donyina, one kilogram of weevils fetches between $8 and $10. A novice farmer can produce a kilo every four weeks. Owusu now produces 10 kilograms of insects a month, worth $80 to $100. In a region where most people earn less than $2.50 a day, he's a fortunate man.

Aspire CEO, Mohammed Ashour, tells us he is stunned to see the benefits of his insect enterprise beyond improving nutrition and incomes.

Ashour recalls an elderly man in Brong Hofo, Ghana. John had retired with no savings, becoming a burden for his family. Then he took up weevil farming. John is happier now that he's productive. And he's bonding with his grandchildren who help him out with his insect endeavour.

"It's not just the nutrition, but the feeling that he's contributing to his family in his later years," says Ashour. "The empowerment is incredible to see. It was a quality of life boost."

Having changed lives with palm weevils in Ghana, Ashour has expanded Aspire. He opened his first cricket farm in Austin, Texas, under the brand name Aketta. You can order Aketta's cricket flour and whole-roasted crickets online, and the company will ship anywhere in the U.S.A. Aketta's web site has pages of tasty-sounding recipes for cooking with crickets.

Swallowing something that once wriggled on the ground may sound unappetizing. But food that's healthy for our bodies, the planet, and the prosperity of the world's most vulnerable people sounds like a meal worth eating.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.