Insect diet offers squirming sustainability

Camren+Brantley-Rios%2C+a+senior+at+Auburn+University%2C+has+challenged+himself+to+incorporate+insects+into+his+meals+three+times+a+day+for+30+days.%C2%A0
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Insect diet offers squirming sustainability

Camren Brantley-Rios, a senior at Auburn University, has challenged himself to incorporate insects into his meals three times a day for 30 days. 

Camren Brantley-Rios, a senior at Auburn University, has challenged himself to incorporate insects into his meals three times a day for 30 days. 

Courtesy CAMREN BRANTLEY-RIOS

Camren Brantley-Rios, a senior at Auburn University, has challenged himself to incorporate insects into his meals three times a day for 30 days. 

Courtesy CAMREN BRANTLEY-RIOS

Courtesy CAMREN BRANTLEY-RIOS

Camren Brantley-Rios, a senior at Auburn University, has challenged himself to incorporate insects into his meals three times a day for 30 days. 

By Sports & Health Reporter

From juicing to gluten-free labels, the health world has played host to its fair share of hype in recent years. However, one Auburn University senior is pioneering a new health-based challenge: Camren Brantley-Rios is eating bugs three times a day for 30 days in hopes that more members of the Western world will incorporate insects into their diets. 

“I’m trying to break my cultural barrier while spreading awareness for the health benefits and sustainable potential of eating insects,” Brantley-Rios said. “[The insects] tend to be just as rich in protein, if not sometimes more, as meat that we already eat, like beef.”

Bugs contain low amounts of cholesterol and fat while  containing large amounts of in minerals and vitamins, according to Brantley-Rios. He began the challenge Jan. 30 and is documenting his experience with the challenge on his website, 30DaysOfBugs.com, as well as on social media. Brantley-Rios, a senior public relations major at Auburn, originally created the website as a resource for those interested in entomophagy, which is the human consumption of insects. Brantley-Rios’ commitment to his challenge has inspired others to try the insect-infused dishes he prepares.

“I don’t think there’s one person that he’s come into contact with that hasn’t tried it if he’s offered it to them,” said Caroline Anderson, a close friend of Brantley-Rios. “We had a big Super Bowl party, and I think everyone there tried crickets and worms. Most of the people that I never thought would try it have been because of how much positive feedback he’s been getting.”

Anderson has tried different meals that have incorporated mealworms, superworms and crickets. 

“I never thought I would go through with [eating the bugs] when he was talking about it,” Anderson said. “I was really hesitant at first because of the look and texture. I thought it would be gross and mushy. It tasted kind of earthy. If you prepare them right, it absorbs the flavor of whatever you’re seasoning with. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

According to Brantley-Rios, his diet has not changed significantly since taking on the challenge. The insects take three minutes to cook, and Brantley-Rios typically seasons the bugs with salt, pepper and garlic powder

“I’ve used crickets a lot for Mexican-type foods,” Brantley-Rios said. “I made a queso fundido dip with crickets, which is a cheese dip. I’ve made wax worm tacos. I haven’t really cooked as much as I have incorporated them into things that I already eat. I’m still eating the foods on campus.”

Brantley-Rios also snacks on cookies and protein bars containing cricket flour throughout the day. Several companies, such as Exo, sell products that utilize cricket flour as an ingredient. Exo is the brainchild of Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis, as Lewis was creating cricket-based protein bars for his own personal consumption. Sewitz attended a sustainability conference that presented entomophagy, which inspired the former college roommates to create an entire brand of protein bars made from cricket flour.  

“We thought it would be really cool to continue with this business idea,” Sewitz said. “We ordered some crickets to our house to experiment turning them into powder and used the recipe that Gabi had already developed. People really liked them so we launched the company full-time.”

Sewitz cites both nutritional and environmental reasons for using crickets in products. Insects range from 50–95 percent protein, and contain more iron than meat and more calcium than milk gram-for-gram, according to Sewitz. Despite the scientific benefits of eating insects, a stigma surrounding entomophagy remains. Getting past the “gross factor” was the most difficult part of adapting bugs into his diet, Brantley-Rios said. 

“I kind of psyched myself out up until I ate the bug,” Brantley-Rios said. “Once I actually ate it and tried it for the first time, I was still alive. They don’t taste weird. They don’t taste like anything we’ve never had before. They have a little bit of a nutty taste, typically. The taste is never bad. The texture might be a little foreign, but it’s not that weird of a food. You just have to get over the fact that you’re eating a bug.”

The consumption of insects could also be seen as a cultural taboo for various reasons, according to Julie Lesnik, an assistant professor at Wayne State University. 

“I think it relates back to the fact that we live in an environment that has very drastic seasons, so right now, in Chicago and Detroit it’s winter, so it’s important to have houses that are sealed off to the elements outside,” Lesnik said. “When you seal off your environment from what’s outside, it turns into, ‘Our home is inside and outside is for the insects and everything else,’ so when they break that barrier, they’re an intruder.”

A 2013 statement by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization compiled research regarding entomophagy as a sustainable practice in many cultures. According to Lesnik, research cited in the report has helped the entomophagy movement gain momentum in America and Europe, where insects are eaten less often than in other parts of the world. 

“I think the entomophagy movement has a little bit more ground than most fads,” Lesnik said. “Entomophagy is a food resource that has been used by humans across the world all over our evolution for millions of years. We have the science on it because people have been studying people that eat insects across the globe. We have great science and data behind the nutritional benefits.”

Brantley-Rios encourages an insect-based diet as a way to make a difference and contribute to environmental conservation without completely altering one’s lifestyle beyond their eating habits. 

“I know there’s a lot of people out there who want to make a difference, and this is the easiest way to do it,” Brantley-Rios said. “People eat every day. Changing what you eat isn’t going to disrupt your schedule too much. You don’t have to go out and lobby. You can eat insects and make a difference. If a bunch of people started doing it, it makes a huge difference.” 

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