Making a Place for Insects on our Plate

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One Memorial Day weekend back in rural Connecticut, I was invited to attend the now-legendary Memorial Day Meatfest and asked to bring a meat for grilling. Instead, I bought a bag of crickets from a nice Thai woman in Rensselaer, New York and at her recommendation, I roasted them with oil and chili powder. They were delicious and the ideal beer-accompanying snack, but they were not well-received by the guests at Meatfest. They simply weren’t presented well. Guests were hesitant (putting it lightly) to eat whole crickets, legs and all.

But if the consumption of insects were presented with some statistics explaining why it’s a great idea, Montreal-based Social Entrepreneur Sidiki Sow is confident that Canadians would buy them. In fact, of the 1000+ students he surveyed for his final research project to complete his degree in Agriculture and Environment from McGill University, 93% of those presented with the benefits of insect consumption would be willing to buy an insect-based product.

Sow’s goal is to “make a place for insects on our plate,” and by starting with education, he believes that Western diets will begin to shift to welcome insect protein. Sow’s cricket protein bar is entering the market by building off of a long and important culinary history.

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“This is not new. All over the world, even in the U.S., even in Texas, there is a long culinary tradition of preparing insects. And people love it! When they’re prepared with love, insects are just as good as a nice steak or barbecue chicken.”

Sow has a close working relationship with the Aspire Food Group, and currently works as  one of their ambassadors. Aspire is his enterprise’s inspiration, and he has benefitted immensely from their mentorship by the team, especially CEO Mohammed Ashour (Hult Prize Winner, McGill MBA).

Sow explained that the business model for his enterprise relies on presenting the protein, not the insect. “Promoting the idea of sustainability and educating people about the benefits of insect consumption will increase their willingness to pay for a product,” Sow told me. “[Insects] feed on basically any biological material, and they’re very efficient at transforming organic matter into high-quality protein. […] And crickets need 40 times less water than cattle do to produce the same amount of protein!”

Sow elaborated that most insects suitable for mass-consumption live in hives, and as such will require far less land use than grazing animals. However, as hives are active only in certain months, the challenge lies in making the process of building up insects’ iron and calcium a year-long one.

Once Sow’s subjects were presented with these facts, they were not only willing to eat insects, but even willing to pay a premium price for protein bars made with cricket flour.

According to Sow, there’s not a significant difference behind consuming animal protein and insect protein. “The marketing industry has been very good at completely separating our perception of the meat and our perception of the animal. We are so far removed from eating the animal, we don’t even think about it.” Sow elaborated that this teaches a valuable lesson for marketing insect protein: “[When we think that way,] we’re not consuming something that’s part of the biological environment, we’re consuming just meat… We need to do the same thing with insects.”

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By emphasizing the health and sustainability benefits of insect consumption, Sow’s product will market itself less as “insect bars” and more as “delicious protein bars made from insects.”

Sow exhibited his research at SOCENT NEXT, a Social Entrepreneurship event held at Le Salon 1861 that offers a collaborative working space for developing social businesses in Montreal.

 

Sow explained that “research shows we will have 9.6 billion people on earth by 2050, and we will need to double our food production to accommodate them. Currently, 9-18% of greenhouse gas emissions like methane come from agriculture, and 70% of our water supply is used in agriculture.” (Source: www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf)

Most of the methane produced and water used in agriculture goes to raising cattle and other animals. “If we have to double the current production. […] It will have terrible consequences for the planet. We need more sustainable agriculture, and that will come from insects.”

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