The United Nations wants us to eat more insects. Environmentalist Pat Crowley is on the case. He is a co-founder of Chapul, based in Salt Lake City. The company, launched last year, makes energy bars using crickets as a main ingredient.
Tiffany O’Callaghan: Why do you want people to eat insects?
Pat Crowley: I have been working in water resources for almost a decade, with a focus on sustainable solutions. That inevitably brought me to agriculture, which uses up to 90 percent of our freshwater resources. I heard about insects as a more environmentally friendly form of nutrition. From a water perspective, it was clearly a game-changer.
TO: How did you decide to make energy bars?
PC: The cricket bars are a way to address the largest barrier to an insect-based product in Western Europe and the United States—the psychological aspect. I also wanted to create a product that somebody could eat for sustenance, and bars are already eaten by what I thought might be one of the most receptive audiences: people on the go, who are outdoor-minded and typically more environmentally aware.
TO: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization just issued a report encouraging people to eat more insects. Was that affirming for you?
PC: The FAO has put out a few reports on the subject, but this is the biggest. More affirming than the report itself was the amount of attention it drew. In the past 10 years there has been an exponential increase in the amount of interest in insect consumption.
TO: How’s business? Have you sold many bars?
PC: We’ve grown every month since we started. We sold 6,000 bars last month and expect to sell more this month. But we’re aiming for controlled growth. Originally I was looking at what it would take to farm crickets, but it just didn’t make sense to do that without any consumer demand. So we decided to create a product to create that demand.
TO: What does your company name mean?
PC: Chapul is the Aztec word for cricket. The Aztecs used to collect crickets en masse, dry them out in the sun and then grind them down to a flour, which they used to make a very dense protein bread. That inspired the method we use to create the flour for the energy bars.
TO: Even in bar form, is it a problem overcoming the “yuck” factor with consumers?
PC: A lot of people are frustrated with the lack of sustainability in the industrial food chain. Right now we’re focused on people who are eager for change and understand why we’re introducing this product.
TO: Where do you get the crickets from?
PC: There are already large operations farming crickets for the pet food industry. I reached out to farmers about raising them for human consumption, and they tweaked rearing practices to meet health code standards for food-grade products.
TO: Do you hope insects will become staples in the Western diet?
PC: I’d like to see little sparks of the industry starting all over the world, or at least in Western Europe and the United States, where there’s a lack. But I don’t view insect consumption as a silver bullet. It’s one thing we can do and that I can focus my individual energy on. We also need to tackle so many other aspects of the completely unsustainable civilization we’ve created.
This article originally appeared in New Scientist.