Jiminy! Time to take eating insects seriously, Kitchener author says

Kitchener author David Waltner-Toews says it's high time Canadians get used to the idea of eating insects.

‘They’re concentrated protein, they’re a great snack, people all over the world eat them,’ he says

Chef John Alvarez is seving truffled cricket popcorn at F&B Walkerville in Windsor, Ont. (Aadel Haleem/CBC)

Beetles for brunch. Nosh on some nits. An appetizer with ants.

David Waltner-Toews of Kitchener wants people in Canada to take eating protein-rich insects seriously.

The writer, veterinarian and professor emeritus at the University of Guelph has published his latest book, Eat the Beetles, and told CBC K-W's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Wednesday that eating insects should be part of a diverse diet.

"They're concentrated protein, they're a great snack, people all over the world eat them," he said. "For personal health, they're good."

Already, insect protein is used in things like energy bars, but there is definitely still an ick factor to eating them, he admitted.

After outrage from customers in 2012, Starbucks announced it was going to phase out the use of an extract from cochineal, an insect indigenous to Latin America. The extract was used in drinks like the strawberries and cream frappuccino to give the beverage its pink colour.

People get hung up on the mental image of eating an entire creature – face, legs and all.

And then, there's cute insects in popular culture.

"You like Jiminy Cricket. Would you eat him? It's like eating Bambi. So we have all these mixed emotions about eating insects," Waltner-Toews said, noting people aren't as likely to want to eat the Disney version of a cheery Jiminy Cricket over the less-nice Talking Cricket in Carlo Collodi's book The Adventures of Pinocchio.

"It does a number on your head," he said. "Once you get past that, and you actually don't pay attention, then it's not a problem." 
Kitchener author David Waltner-Toews has released his new book, Eat the Beetles. (Author photo by Kathy Waltner-Toews)

Lower impact on environment

When it comes to the environment, growing insects uses less water and less land than other kinds of livestock.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted on its website the world's population will hit nine billion in 2050, that that will lead to "scarcities of agricultural land, water, forest, fishery and biodiversity resources, as well as nutrients and non-renewable energy."

Insects require less food than traditional livestock – the FAO says crickets need six times less feed than cattle – to produce the same amount of protein.

As well, insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock and they can be grown on organic waste.

But raising more insects for eating does raise some ethical issues, Waltner-Toews noted. 
A hot dog with some shredded veggies and topped with crispy mustard crickets was served up at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 2016. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"What does it mean to have cricket welfare? We don't really understand them that well," he said.

It took researchers decades to understand hormonal cycles of cattle and pigs to manage them as livestock.

"We're only beginning to understand how insects communicate with each other, the kind of chemical messages they send," he said.

"So to try to manage that, you actually, once you go from a really small scale in the backyard to start farming it up, it gets more complicated, so there's some potential impacts there in terms of ethics."

Bugs and barbecue chips

Don't be surprised if you start to see roasted beetles in the grocery store.

He noted companies like Entomo Farms in Peterborough are making eating insects mainstream. They sell consumer products like protein powders from mealworms oven roasted crickets.

He said these kinds of items can be easily sprinkled on things like salad or pizza.

Waltner-Toews has had black ants on salmon and said it gives the dish a bit of a bite.

It will be awhile before bags of bugs sit beside the barbecue chips, but Waltner-Toews said it is the future.

"It's coming."


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