Food and our eating habits have to be a major part, which I've written about:
Since many "green" ventures seem more interested in wrapping themselves in a trend than actually reducing consumption, I attended an event promoting innovation and technology in food with skepticism.
I was pleasantly surprised to find several ventures that could actually help, not just talk.
Though vegetarian myself, I couldn't help seeing the appeal of Seek, which brought crickets to the table, literally.
I asked founder Robyn Shapiro to share more about cricket flour and a future with an ingredient already eaten around the world.
Let's start by describing your project. Whom do you help? What problem do you solve?
Robyn Shapiro: To address some of the world's greatest health and environmental issues, Seek incorporates sustainable cricket protein into a line of healthy foods, such as granola, energy bites, baking flours and protein powder. Seek partners with award-winning chefs and bakers with cookbooks and original recipes using our flours.
We are at a really interesting time with cricket protein, there is a lot of awareness about it as a new ingredient, but consumers still need to cross a psychological barrier to begin more widely incorporating it into their diet. Through working with such talented chefs and bakers, we can both inspire and educate a new generation of cricket eaters.
Our reliance on meat in developed nations, and as the world population continues to grow. We don't have enough land, feed, and water.
Crickets use 15x less water, 12x less feed and 14x less land than beef, while delivering 3x more protein and releasing virtually no greenhouse gases.
Livestock production is one of the world's most environmentally damaging industries contributing more greenhouse gases than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation combined.
Edible insects are the food of the future, endorsed by the U.N., the retired CEO of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi, and Bill Gates. Crickets also contain many vitamins and minerals and have a high bioavailability. Crickets have 3x more protein than beef, 1.5x more calcium than milk, 15% more iron than spinach, as much omega 3's as salmon and 30 times more B12 than beef.
Additionally, recent research shows that a diet high in cricket protein may improve gut health and reduce inflammation.
Your idea makes me think, "Why didn't I think of that?!?", a thought I associate with entrepreneurial success. It seems like a lot of new food start-ups find clear missing opportunities. How did everyone miss it?
RS: The UN research on edible insects made sense to me.
Here is food we've consumed for millennia, that is incredibly nutritious and sustainable with culinary traditions around the world surrounding it.
I saw only consumer perception standing in the way for Americans. It's big, but I believe in humanity and that when something will truly benefit society like eating crickets and other insects, that we will move in the right direction.
It all ladders up. It takes time and many will resist, but change is inevitable. It is tough to say that not focusing on this sooner was a "missed opportunity," rather we needed something powerful to help challenge our very deep seeded beliefs.
That power came from the UN's hard numbers, enough to create an industry.
Inc. readers like to innovate. Do you see other opportunities or areas outside yours that others can act on or look into?
RS: I am often asked, why crickets and not other insects. The answer is that crickets are great entry level insect, not as scary as others. They might remind you Disney's Jiminy Cricket.
That said, our entire ecosystem relies on insects. Their populations are at risk. They're essential to the world's global food systems. They create, serve as and decompose food. It is estimated that insects contribute $57B of free labor to the US economy.
We are just scratching the surface with farming insects. We know of around 2,000 edible insects. Beyond food, we can learn a lot from them.
A plastic eating caterpillar was recently discovered.
Research indicates sea slugs may help fight cancer.
Insects with an exoskeleton, like crickets, have a molecule called chitin, which may help immune systems.
With only a tenth of the insect population classified, you can imagine the possibilities. It's time to start thinking small to think big.
There are a lot of food startups in health and efficiency. Has the field arrived, is it just starting, is it already mature, or where do you see it?
RS: This is a huge and important question. Health focused food start-ups correlates with the rise of food-related health issues. About half of American adults have preventable diseases, many related to diet. We need to reevaluate what we put into our bodies and how we live.
This industry is just starting. We will see more focus on food as medicine and on sustainability. Eating right will need a lot of boxes checked.
This is why Seek is focusing on crickets as an alternative protein, it addresses all of these issues, while still being rooted in nature and tradition.
What is the biggest barrier you face? What about for new entrants?
RS: Consumer perception.
Partnering with leading culinary professionals helps, and I believe this movement will tip soon.
Access is important too. In a poll, we found that 75% of people have not tried crickets yet because they did not have access (29% said it was because they were freaked out).
However, 94% said they believe they will try crickets within a year, meaning that even some people culturally scared still philosophically support the idea of eating crickets. We just need to make Seek and other cricket-based products more available and teach people about it.
You seem personally passionate and look like you're working hard. Which came first, the hard work, the passion, both, or something else?
I've never been short of hard work or passion. Food and the environment have always been passions, so being able to combine them into my daily work is immensely rewarding.
Five years abroad in Switzerland showed me the health and environmental issues stemming from our global food system. There was no local food or green movement, people just ate and acted with respect for the environment. I wanted to apply that approach in the US. If I could chip away at some issues here, I could begin to create real impact.
I worked in advertising. As I saw the negative effects of overconsumption, I woke up one day with a moral crisis with what I was doing. I quit my prestigious job and started working on a farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn--a shock to my family and friends, but pure joy to me. I wanted to use my branding skills to redirect people to more socially minded products and ideas.
Not long after came Seek, and it started as a series of dinners at my home with insects as the star ingredient. I knew if I could develop tasty snacks with crickets with branding that resonated, then insects as food would become normal.
I continue to build upon that original thesis and educate customers. Advocating for cricket protein is not only my business, it has become a lifelong mission.
Here's a curve ball since I avoid packaged food. Can I buy from you in bulk or other way minimizing waste (I consider recycling waste)?
RS: No curve ball here, we just introduced a line of flours which will be available in individual bags or in bulk sizes.
RS: Our new line of cricket protein baking flours includes an All-Purpose, Gluten-Free and Paleo blend for specific dietary needs. We will have a 100% pure cricket powder too, also great for keto. Cricket flour adds a delightfully nutty flavor and is versatile, making it a new kitchen staple.
We are launching The Cricket Cookbook with chefs' and bakers' original recipes using one of our flours - the first cookbook of its kind! It shows crickets' diversity and deliciousness, great for anyone looking to eat healthy and sustainably or looking to broaden their palate.