Are Bugs Vegetarian?

February 29, 2016

One of the most devoted vegetarians I know loves the smell of bacon and occasionally craves the meatballs her mother made for her growing up, but draws the line at actually eating meat—including bugs.

In the past several years, more and more brands, many launched by Kickstarter campaigns, now offer crickets in protein bars, at-home mealworm farms, cricket flour for baking, and even critters in bitters.

According to Google trends, the search terms “entomophagy” (the practice of eating bugs) and “How to eat bugs” have skyrocketed since 2008, bringing a once much less relevant question to top of mind: Are insects vegetarian? And if they aren’t technically vegetarian, are they worth making an exception for?

The simple answer is: no. Insects are technically animals (they belong to largest phylum of the animal kingdom, arthropods); vegetarians don't eat animals; so vegetarians don't eat bugs. End of story.

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But what complicates this answer is that some studies have shown that insects don't feel pain. Johanna B. Kelly, creator and director of the upcoming documentary, “The Gateway Bug” added that since crickets are cold-blooded, killing them is as simple as placing them in the refrigerator for three minutes, which many believe is more humane—and definitely less gruesome—than alternative means of slaughter.

There’s even evidence, as reported by a Huffington Post piece, that if vegans and vegetarians replaced plants with crickets, they’d harm fewer animals. Due to the displacement of land and the machinery used to harvest plants, some researchers estimate that millions of animals—mostly moles, mice, and other field animals—lose their lives every year to agriculture, either run over by machines or starved out.

Still, to many vegetarians, this information is irrelevant—the line is black and white. Our customer care associate, Melissa Langer, told me, “I would not eat a cricket—to me, being vegetarian is steering clear of foods that have a brain/consciousness. In that regard, crickets are not vegetarian.

Why Bugs May Be Considered Vegetarian

For vegetarians who have chosen to avoid meat because of sustainability issues, the answer is more fluid. Greg Sewitz, the CEO of exo, a brand of protein bars made with cricket flour, explained to me, “We do get a lot of vegetarians who are interested because crickets don’t have the same environmental drawbacks as other meats.” According to his research, crickets are exponentially more sustainable than livestock—not only are they more nutrient-dense, but they require 2000 times less water than cows do, pound for pound, and produce 1% of the greenhouse gases.

Caroline, an editor at Food52 and vegetarian, said, “For folks who are interested in animal protein, I think crickets are a cool solution, since they're so low-impact and inexpensive to produce.”

Whether insects should be considered vegetarian or not comes down to a personal choice. “It’s a very emotionally-charged topic,” Greg said, “so we don’t try to convince vegans or vegetarians that they should be eating bugs. It’s a personal decision.”

Do you consider bugs to be vegetarian? Would you have trouble getting past the "ick" factor? Tell us in the comments below!


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Guido Borell
    Guido Borell
  • Alan
  • KB
  • Nikki Young
    Nikki Young
  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
I eat everything.


Guido B. December 7, 2018
I have no problems with eating insects. However, businesses and commercials that show parts of warm-blooded animals are offending my feelings.
It was my opinion that vegetarians may eat eggs, milk, fish or insects but vegans do not.
Crickets or grasshoppers are eating the leaves of the vegetables that I grow. I do not use insecticides to kill insects, I prefer to eat some of the insects. Usually, I eat them uncooked with wings and legs.
I would support a heavy tax on meat products and insecticides.
Alan July 28, 2018
"Millions of animals lose their lives every year to agriculture", what a load of crock! 75% of the worlds grains are grown to feed livestock. Talk about twisting the truth!
KB October 24, 2018
If so, feel free to eat plastic, metal and glass.
KB May 22, 2018
BUGS & FISH are NOT vegetarian. And so are oysters, clams etc. Some misunderstand the term "vegetarianism" and make funny theories to make people believe.
Nikki Y. December 3, 2016
Ugh. There are often bugs on organic produce. Vegans are eating animals whether they know it or not.
KB October 24, 2018
Wrong notion. Vegetarianism is all about NOT harming another creature intentionally. If someone eats a bug that they did not notice that was on the produce (possible in fresh leaf salads), it does NOT count towards "harming" animals. So, it is still vegetarian because the person has done it unknowingly or unintentionally. Geez!

Catherine L. March 1, 2016
I'm a pescetarian (so already only semi-vegetarian), but I am totally down with insects. I stopped eating meat mainly because I didn't crave it, and I had issues with the environmental impact -- insects are a great way to get protein with a super-minimal carbon/water footprint.
Martina M. July 14, 2017
Hi Catherine!
I was the same as you. but nowadays I'm an "Insecterian"! :)
I started having crickets when I quit meat, eggs and dairy. I was feeling very weak, fatigue and tired, and the vegan proteins I was having (pea and brown rice protein powders) were not working for me. I started to look for an alternative protein and found out about crickets. And got in love with it! I bought some #cricketproteinpowder from USA and after a month having it everyday in my smoothies I could tell the difference in my body. Crickets were the life-changing protein source for me.
702551 March 1, 2016
Insects are no more vegetarian than crab, shrimp or lobster, all three of which are in phylum Arthropoda, just like insects. A crab is basically a big underwater bug. Heck, Cajuns knowingly call crawfish "mudbugs."

And vegetarians who have consciously chosen their diet for ethical reasons really shouldn't be eating anything with added sugar. Almost all commercially produced cane sugar here in the USA is processed using bone char as a whitener (basically carbonized beef bones).
KB October 24, 2018
There is VEGAN sugar - where activated charcoal is used instead of bone char. All ORGANIC sugars are vegan. There are countries that sell sugar labeled "vegetarian" meaning no bone-char.
Michael February 29, 2016
I would try crickets but the question of "are bugs vegetarian" is simple: no.
vegetarian has vegetable as it's "root" word (pun intended)
the body of an insect is made up of meat and organs etc
that's not vegetarian fare