Although most Americans would balk at the idea of eating insects, crickets have long been a popular snack in Cambodia where the practice of eating them dates as far back as the 10th century AD. During the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, desperate Cambodians staved off starvation by foraging for crickets.
In Cambodia, fried or roasted crickets are usually sold at wet markets but cricket dishes can also be found on the menus of swanky nightclubs. Traditionally, Cambodian peasants have harvested wild crickets but in recent years, many of them have switched to rearing crickets instead. The imported black Mediterranean cricket and the indigenous red cricket are the two species that are primarily farmed for human consumption. Despite its smaller size, the native red cricket is regarded as the more commercially sustainable species due to its greater hardiness.
Food scarcity is a serious issue in the rural regions of Cambodia where up to four million people suffer from malnutrition annually. In these impoverished areas, the daily caloric intake falls far short of the minimally stipulated 2100 kcal. However, by rearing their own crickets, Cambodian farmers can ensure that their own families will not have to go hungry.
Crickets are typically endowed with much higher levels of protein than other more conventional options. The general protein content of crickets varies from 60 to 65 percent. By contrast, the protein content for meat usually ranges from 30 to 35 percent. Cricket-derived protein also compares favorably with plant-based alternatives since it is processed much more easily by the human body than the latter.
Additionally, crickets are also rich in other micronutrients that are important for overall physical wellbeing. Crickets contain 180 percent more iron than beef. They are also abundant in vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium and calcium. There is even research which suggests that crickets may be rich in antioxidants that curb the growth of free radicals that have been linked to the development of cancerous tumors in humans.
Furthermore, cricket farming provides rural Cambodians with a viable livelihood. Unlike other types of livestock, crickets can be housed in small concrete pens at high densities. This is an important consideration in a country where most of the rural poor have limited access to farmland. Moreover, crickets have a short lifecycle and can be harvested after five weeks, allowing for a rapid production rate. Crickets also require less feed than animals like cattle and pigs due to their cold-blooded nature and are hence more efficient at converting feed into protein. In addition, their diets can be supplemented with vegetable waste, further reducing operational expenses for cricket farmers.
A cricket farmer can obtain between 3 and 3.75 US dollars for every kilogram of fresh crickets that they sell and some successful cricket farmers are able to earn as much as US 400 dollars per month. This compares positively with the legally mandated minimum monthly wage for a textile worker which is a meager 182 dollars. Further employment is also generated when cricket processing mills are established. Enterprising Cambodians as well as development agencies have promoted the sale of processed cricket food products in overseas as well as local markets. By being integrated into these wider supply chains, Cambodian cricket farmers are given the opportunity to tap into a more lucrative income stream.
Most importantly, by dining on crickets, consumers can have a positive impact that extends far beyond Cambodia’s borders. Unlike other types of livestock, crickets leave behind a relatively small ecological footprint. Crickets emit far lower levels of greenhouse gasses than traditional sources of protein such as cattle and poultry. A study revealed that broiler chickens produced 89 percent more greenhouse gasses than crickets per unit of protein produced.
In light of a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report which states that livestock farming is responsible for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, it is evident that by switching to eating crickets, consumers can do their part to combat climate change. Furthermore, crickets also excrete a substantially smaller output of ammonia and other waste products that may induce soil nitrification. These humble insects may someday feed people all over the world.
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WORDS: Shree Raaman
IMAGE CREDIT: McKay Savage.