Changing the World One Bite at a Time

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What if saving the world was a simple as changing your diet? Small dietary changes can yield global results, and the solution Shiya (Dawn) Zhao ’18 proposes in her Senior Project is simple: eat bugs. To back up that proposal, she will debut her line of homemade baked goods, made with crickets, at Senior Project Exhibition Night.

According to the World Resources Institute, livestock production (beef, in particular) and its byproducts are significant contributors to Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, nearly a quarter of the Earth’s land area—excluding Antarctica—is used as pasture, and beef uses a third of all water in farm animal production. Although eating less meat could reduce a person’s environmental footprint by half, agricultural researchers estimate that the demand for beef is expected to increase 95 percent by 2020. Insects, on the other hand, require far fewer resources to farm than cows, and they are nutritional powerhouses: high in protein, packed with vitamins and essential amino acids, and low in fat. Replacing even a portion of animal protein intake with insects could cause a major environmental impact.

Though entomophagy (using bugs as food) is not popular in North America, countries like China, Thailand, and Mexico all partake in insect-based snacks. In Ghana, citizens obtain roughly 60 percent of their protein from eating bugs. Even in the United States, desiccated insects are used in the production of cochineal, a colorant widely used in food, beverages, and cosmetics.

Dawn believes the challenge in convincing Americans to try insect-based foods is overcoming the reaction inspired by coming face-to-face with the little guys. “When I can see that there are bugs in a product, it disgusts me, too,” she admits. To circumvent that issue, instead of using whole insects, Dawn worked with milled cricket flour, using it in ratio with all-purpose flour to produce chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and protein bars. “I want people to see a food they recognize,” she says.

Aside from a darker tint from the cricket flour, Dawn says there’s virtually no visible difference between the cricket cookies and those made primarily of all-purpose flour. The cricket cookies have a slightly nuttier scent and flavor, she said, but most of her testers have been unable to detect a difference between the two types.

This project marks Dawn’s first intensive foray into cooking. Before she could begin to experiment with developing recipes involving cricket flour, she had to learn to bake. During her spare time in her boarding house, Dawn researched by watching cooking television shows and videos online. She was also pleased to find that her housemates and boarding parents were supportive and helpful. “Some people don’t want to try the food, but they always want to help,” she says.

In addition to the baked goods, Dawn also designed packaging for her line of snacks, as well as a number of resources to educate the public on the benefits of entomophagy.

“I know some people will not accept it, but I hope they will still try it,” Dawn says. “Changing one small thing can make a huge difference.”