Have you heard about the next big food trend? You won't find it growing in your garden, but you might find it crawling there.
On the shelves at Summerhill Market, a Toronto grocery store, there are mealworm protein balls and scrumptious cricket key lime pie. Last year, chef Meeru Dhalwala put delicacies like a flatbread made from cricket flour on the menu at her popular Vij and Rangoli restaurants in Vancouver. And two years ago, New Millennium Farms in Norwood, Ont., became North America's first agricultural business raising and processing insects for consumer meals. These entrepreneurs are at the leading edge of what food bloggers say will be the top food trend of 2016.
It may be a stretch to imagine noshing on a bag of chocolate-covered crickets while chilling out with Netflix. But a meal of bugs is high in protein and essential nutrients, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The group encourages Westerners to get on the bug bandwagon.
Palm weevils, for instance, contain two times more dietary zinc than beef, as well as higher amounts of iron and healthy fats. And while the nutritional value of bugs is undeniably big, the environmental footprint of insect farming isn't. Insect farms require much less land and resources like water, and produce far lower levels of greenhouse gases than traditional livestock farms.
From Asia to South America, insects have long appeared on the menu in many cultures. But what's truly epic about the edible bug trend is its potential to not only provide a healthy source of food, but also boost incomes among people in developing countries who could never afford chicken or beef from a grocery store.
Owusu, a stone mason in Ghana's central Ashanti region, is a great example of how insects can transform lives. Surgery left him unable to do heavy labour, and with no other job skills, Owusu couldn't put food on the table for his wife and five children.
Then he heard about Aspire, a Montreal-based social enterprise that won the prestigious Hult Prize for its world-changing plan to tackle chronic malnutrition in developing communities. Aspire teaches people to farm palm weevils--small insects that are a staple food in Ghana. Owusu got a starter kit from Aspire and within mere weeks he was earning a living wage.
In the open-air market of Owusu's home village of Donyina, one kilogram of weevils fetches between $8 and $10. A novice farmer can produce a kilo every four weeks. Owusu now produces 10 kilograms of insects a month, worth $80 to $100. In a region where most people earn less than $2.50 a day, he's a fortunate man.
Aspire CEO, Mohammed Ashour, tells us he is stunned to see the benefits of his insect enterprise beyond improving nutrition and incomes. Ashour recalls an elderly man in Brong Hofo, Ghana. John had retired with no savings, becoming a burden for his family. Then he took up weevil farming. John is happier now that he's productive again. And he's bonding with his grandchildren who help him out with his insect endeavour.
"It's not just the nutrition, but the feeling that he's contributing to his family in his later years," says Ashour. "The empowerment is incredible to see. It was a quality of life boost."
Having changed lives with palm weevils in Ghana, Ashour has expanded Aspire, launching cricket farms in Mexico and the U.S.
While swallowing something that once wriggled on the ground may sound unappetizing, food that's healthy for our bodies, the planet, and the prosperity of the world's most vulnerable sounds like a meal worth tucking into.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.
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