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.
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.”
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!