Are you ready for cricket burgers?
Over two billion people regularly eat insects. Why are Americans so squeamish?
- Humans have eaten insects for a long time, yet Westerners rarely put them on their plate.
- Insects are a sustainable and nutritious alternative that can help mitigate the effects of climate change.
- Currently, the edible insects market is $55 million and growing.
Vegan blogs are rejoicing over Burger King's decision to sell an "Impossible Whopper," a soy-based take on the burger chain's classic offering. While Impossible Foods has been around since 2011, this recent news has almost resulted in shortages in restaurants trying to keep up with demand.
Distribution might be an issue in the coming months. Yet before meat abstainers get too excited, we should be informed whether or not these new Whoppers are cooked on the same grill as their regular offerings.
While the Impossible Burger is soy- and -potato protein based, the lab-grown meat movement is also picking up speed (though not as fast as some would hope). These headlines signal a positive step forward in our relationship to other species (and the planet).
As musician and activist Moby recently pointed out on Real Time with Bill Maher, animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change, yet is not being discussed on a national stage by presidential candidates. The laser focus on carbon emissions and energy companies is missing an essential piece of the puzzle.
There is another solution to climate and ethical problems associated with industrial meat agriculture — not a vegan solution, nor does it have a major burger chain behind it. It is not a replacement for the advancements in plant-based offerings and "clean" meat research, but it should be considered as an accompanying offering: crickets.
If you squirm at the suggestion, you're not alone. Still, the edible insect market is growing: $55 million in 2017, the industry is expected to grow over 43 percent by 2024. The reason you squirmed (if you did) is more cultural than nutritional. Insects are regularly on the menu across the planet. Health experts have been nudging Americans in this direction for some time. A 2013 UN report urged us to consider integrating some of the 1,900 edible insect species into our diet due to their high nutrient and protein profile.
Is cricket the new white meat? BYU food scientist studies edible insects
The psychological hurdle is the biggest obstacle for Americans. Eating insects is something "poor" and "third world" people do, goes the sentiment, even though more than two billion people regularly eat insects. The fact that we don't is similar to why we no longer squat while defecating and why we don elaborate footwear: toilets and padded sneakers are more status symbols than biological necessities.
If you consider all we do for status over health, you'll find the so-called "first world" mentality unsustainable. Our intestinal tract works best when squatting; our feet function better with space and natural curves rather being than stuffed into "foot coffins." Both of these anatomical curiosities are rooted in the mindset of affluence: I can afford a toilet and shoes, unlike those primitives. What appears to be an everyday reality is the result of a long disdain of poverty, even as the real impoverishment is how we treat our bodies.
The same is true of insects. We romanticize "the hunt" as part of our genetic heritage, and indeed, capturing large animals provided protein-rich meals for tribes. Most hunter-gatherer meals, however, were provided for not by the champion male, but by women gathering roots, tubers, vegetables, and yes, insects for daily sustenance. As Colin Tudge has written, agriculture didn't magically appear; it co-existed with the hunt for tens of thousands of years (if not longer). We have long been growing and hunting for our food.
Thus, if you're walking around Thailand's famous street markets, you'll come across plenty of crickets, grasshoppers, silkworms, and more — just make sure that scorpion is thoroughly cooked before chowing down.
An "Impossible Whopper" sits on a table at a Burger King restaurant on April 1, 2019 in Richmond Heights, Missouri. Image source: Michael Thomas / Getty Images
Of course, insects do not provide nearly the same caloric bang for the buck as mammals and fowl. Industrial-grade chicken arrives in your cart for roughly $3 a pound; crickets, $15. That is changing as more companies, such as Austin-based Aketta, experiment with means to bring down costs and bulk up nutrients.
Growing beef requires a lot more land, water, and feed than insects (and pretty much everything else) while also producing inordinate amounts of greenhouse gases. Aketta's cricket burger recipe is filled with plant-based ingredients to tamp down the insecty taste (for the squeamish). While I have yet to try this particular burger, I'm a fan of cricket flour protein bars, which taste like most other flour-based supplemental meals.
At the moment the movement is slightly faddish, yet so is an Impossible Whopper. That will change as we become accustomed to the shifting culture around us.
The distance between sustainability and health need not be as vast as now. Growing beef and pork for an expanding population is not sustainable for the land and sky, similar to how overfishing is quickly depleting our oceans (and leaving us with too many jellyfish). Nothing is impossible if we change our mindset toward it.
Edible insects are not third world or primitive; they're smart nutrition. Those concerned with ethical issues will be happy to know that their nervous systems are nowhere near as advanced as the animals we're accustomed to seeing on the menu.
With more farmers involved, production costs will decrease while the benefits to land and water will be apparent. Perhaps many will even discover that insects don't taste nearly as poorly as perceived. Just add a little salt and plenty of chili.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."