Hibbing native: save the world, eat bugs

Zoe Anton and Hibbing native Austin Miller, of Eugene, Oregon, raise crickets for food at their company Craft Crickets. (PHOTO: Craft Crickets)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

If we’re being honest, we’ve all eaten a bug at one time or another. I’ve dined on a few pedaling my bike across the back roads of Northern Minnesota. And never mind how many crawl into our mouths at night without us knowing.

Yet not many of us eat insects on purpose. Our parents told us not to. And their parents before them. But if we follow our lineage back far enough, ancient humans ate bugs the way modern Americans eat Cheetos or tater tots. Indeed, many people around the world still do.

In fact, foraging for insects is the evolutionary reason humans have the manual dexterity we now use to poke at touch screens. Insects are plentiful and full of protein. And one Hibbing native thinks eating bugs as food could make the world a better place.

Austin Miller has enjoyed a most unusual career path. He got his start digging graves at Maple Hill Cemetery after he graduated from Hibbing High School in 2001. After college, Austin went on to enjoy success in the business world. He worked his way up the ladder at Target’s corporate offices in the Twin Cities. Later, he worked in Europe for Amazon.com. Before now, the last time I talked to him was for a column about the European steel industry.

Today, Miller lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he and his partner Zoe Anton raise crickets for food as part of a company called Craft Crickets.

Every day, Miller eats crickets. Dry roasted crickets. Cricket flour. Cricket shakes. And Miller and Anton’s research demonstrates that using crickets for food will save water, land, and resources while providing a nearly limitless source of high quality protein.

That is, if you eat them.

Miller and Anton met while both worked in jobs involving international travel. Miller lived in four countries in seven years, doing business across much of Europe.

“Driving across multiple countries is a great way to see how much land is used to raise cattle,” said Miller in a recent e-mail conversation. “I love steak and hamburgers, and still do, but the more I traveled, the harder it was to justify using so many resources and releasing so much methane and GHGs simply to eat a burger.”

The couple decided to find a more sustainable life for themselves in a single location. They explored farming all manner of animals and plants. But an unexpected discovery changed everything.

“Then I ate a grasshopper,” said Miller. “It was seasoned with some lime and chili powder. It was delicious. It better complemented my beer than Doritos.”

A 2013 United Nations study showed how eating insects could dramatically improve the global food supply while conserving limited resources like water and farmland. Miller and Anton were sold. They moved to Oregon and founded Craft Crickets. They make a living off the sale of dry roasted crickets, but a big part of their work is scientific study of cricket farming and educating those who want to raise their own crickets.

“Eating insects still has such a stigma in this country and still seems so far-out that when people hear about eating bugs, they want to learn more,” said Miller. “They say, ‘Yuck. Why would you eat a bug? I will talk to you about it because I will never eat a bug.’ This intrigue leads to a much broader discussion on our food choices and more often than not, I can get people to eat a bug. On practically every metric, eating a cricket is superior to eating whatever you have in your grocery basket.”

Miller and Anton keep meticulous records for each batch of crickets they farm. They record what the crickets eat. How much water they consume. The temperature of the environment. Finally, they release that information to the public.

For instance, the most recent batch harvested May 11 required 3.3 pounds of mostly dry feed and about a gallon of water to produce one edible pound of crickets. Compare that to 24 pounds of feed and 441 gallons of water to produce an edible pound of beef. And Miller argues that crickets taste great, a lot like nuts. They can be seasoned many ways to pair with different drinks and dishes.

You might not feel ready to eat crickets yet, but Miller believes you should try.

“On the Range, we have a constant dialogue around the benefits of local mining and US-based steel production,” said Miller. “While it may be cheaper to mine iron ore in parts of China or Brazil, there are high hidden costs associated with doing so: the foreign mining practices are more detrimental to the environment, the labor practices are less humane in terms of living wages and safety. A similar argument goes with food. Any time we eat something, we are taking a stance on the environment and on human rights.

In other words, eating crickets could save the world.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 21, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

 

Comments

  1. Very timely topic and project! Our current agricultural system is depleting our soil, depleting and polluting our water resources, and contaminating our food with toxic residues. Likewise factory farms are producing meat laden with antibiotics and hormones, are inhumane, and are also polluting our water. Meanwhile, our food supply is resulting in an over-all unhealthy population. People are definitely searching for alternatives.
    I would also like to mention that the water and wetland rich Arrowhead Region of Minnesota is the worst place to open a sulfide mine district as sulfur combines with water and air to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4). And even our taconite tailings basins are leaching sulfates and other contaminants into our watersheds, and will need to be treated and maintained for centuries after closure.
    We definitely need people like Austin and Zoe to create new perspectives on how we use the resources of this planet.

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