One small farm in Thailand,
one giant feast for America.
Here lies my adventure of finding cricket farmers in Thailand and working with them to support the increasing demand for insect-based ingredients.
Ewww Yumm, Crickets!
Bugs from all over the world are starting crawling their way into innovative food products. After ordering a dozen of Exo‘s cricket protein bars, it was love at first bite. Cricket bar in hand, I began researching if insects were a realistic, sustainable food source (for humans).
After reading the report by United Nations entitled: Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security, I concluded my traditional Western thoughts towards eating insects weren’t justified from a nutritional point of view. 2 billion people already include insects in their diet and the only excuse I could find from the other 5 billion (myself included) was, “ewww.”
Along with their high protein content, most insects are also high in fiber, omegas, vitamins and essential amino acids. So as I slowly introduced grubs into my diet (like papaya cricket salad), my ingrained taboo against insects quickly changed from ewww, to yumm.
A Journey to the Source
Around the same time, my brother asked me to join him on a project that would serve as our launch pad into exploring the possibilities of entomophagy– eating insects.
I recalled from the FAO report, “Thailand is one of the few countries to have developed a viable and thriving insect farming sector.” So I minimized my life to a backpack and moved to Thailand to learn about eating insects from a culture who has been doing it for generations.
What started as a general curiosity in this new, yet primitive, food source had quickly evolved into a hands-on investigation to see if insects truly deserved a place on our modern dinner plates.
A Platter of Bangkok’s Finest
As I arrived in Bangkok, I took to the streets to find one of those hawker street carts I had often seen in documentaries and travel shows serving up insects. It took some exploring to find the carts and once I did, the language barrier made it difficult to communicate. Even after I honed my basic Thai, Tarzan English and sign language, most insect hawkers aren’t keen on stepping away from their business to chit-chatting with curious tourists.
A Different Approach
I needed a new strategy if I was going to really learn about the culture of entomophagy. So I headed to North East Thailand to Khon Kaen University (KKU) where some of the world’s leading entomology professors conduct their studies. Many have been working closely with nearby insect farmers to develop sustainable farming practices while monitoring the economic impact of rearing insects.
After aimlessly walking around the University campus, I met an English speaking student who kindly showed me the directory of entomology professors. I blasting some emails and was able to line up some meetings with professors and research assistants.
Thailand’s Insect-Supply Exceeds Their Demand
I met with Dr. Supaporn, who has been working with nearby villages to help farmers learn the trade of sustainable insect agriculture. Due to the low startup costs and quick returns, they saw a leap from 10 to over 100 farmers eager to take advantage of the opportunity. Though because of the Western influence on younger generations, the demand for insects has been decreasing and many of the farmers have been forced to return to their previous trade.
So when Dr. Supaporn learned of my interest in distributing insects from Thailand to America, she was pleased to introduce me to a cricket farmer she’s been working with, Phannee.
The Impact of a Farmer and Her Crickets
As I got to know Phannee and her story of farming crickets, I began to understand the value insect farming has for these rural farmlands. It provides an additional source of revenue for low-level income farmers while addressing the rapidly increasing demand for food worldwide (expected world population in 2050 is 9 billion). All the while giving the world a healthy, sustainable source of food.
Using the research conducted by the FAO, here’s is a comparison between Phannee’s previous practice of raising cattle and her current practice of raising crickets:
This shows that crickets are 12 times more efficient than cattle at converting feed to edible meat than cattle, and 20 times more efficient as a source of protein. Sounds like a future food to me!
After seeing the economic impact Phannee’s small-scale cricket farm has made on her family and the surrounding area within the 10 years she’s been farming crickets, I developed a new sense of motivation to connect America’s growing demand for edible insects to these farmers in remote areas of the world who can meet that need.
A Cricket’s Journey from Thailand to America
When I met with Phannee at her house and cricket farm, we discussed what it would look like to get her crickets to America.
Our values for sustainability, low emissions, and a quality end product were aligned and Phannee was onboard to make this happen. According to an agricultural economics masters student from Khon Kaen University, who conducted studies on her farm, the most efficient method to get the crickets to America would be to first mill them into a flour. I was happy to hear this seeing as flour is the perfect medium to introduce “creepy crawlers” into America’s diet.
Think of cricket flour as the California Roll of sushi, which subtly introduced eating raw fish in the West and eventually became a norm.
Phannee, along with most cricket farmers, has never made a flour from crickets before, but through an experimental process of heating and milling, we had our first successful sample of cricket flour!
State of Affairs
The cricket flour was sent back to Portland, OR where my brothers will use it to continue experimenting with viable food products. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to establish a relationship with insect farmers who see the potential of scaling their farms to help meet the growing need for food-grade insects. And potentially introduce some Western innovation to traditional insect agriculture.
Interested in getting involved with this project? Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Ready to try eating insects? Try our cricket protein bar!