Are Crickets Vegan?

I am approached by curious vegans and vegetarians ALL of the time. Many have the question - “Are crickets vegan?” The answer isn’t simply a yes or no proposition for many. I normally answer this question with another question- “What motivates you toward veganism?”.


For many, the vegan pitch is one of animal welfare. These incredibly compassionate humans thrive on a vegan diet and don’t want to harm a living creature. While admirable, many genetic profiles don’t thrive on this diet and become iron deficient. 


For many other vegans, their motivations are environmental or health related. We have found that healthy, whole food vegan and vegetarian diets help reduce inflammation, and may be preventative to heart disease. Of course, just because you are vegan doesn’t mean you eat a healthy diet, there are many unhealthy processed foods that are vegan.


For the second group of vegans and vegetarians, we will call them the environmental and health motivated vegans, cricket protein is absolutely a wonderful supplement to the diet. Not only is it more sustainable, requiring a fraction of the arable land and water as competing plant proteins, but it hosts many of the nutrients that are hard to obtain as a vegan- namely iron, b-vitamins and protein. This is a perfect food for these vegans and of my particular interest is the “heme-iron”. As a food scientist, I know that iron deficiency anemia (lack of iron in the diet usually) is a number one public health concern globally. Plant based iron is hard on the body and doesn’t get absorbed efficiently, about a 50% excretion rate. Heme-iron, from blood carrying animals, is 90% absorbed. IF we are to eat for the earth and sustainability, it is helpful to have supplemental sources of iron to avoid iron deficiency anemia as vegans and vegetarians. 


For those nature lovers, crickets are of mass appeal.  Since they can be grown indoors and in urban centers, they make local protein possible EVERYWHERE. They also don’t require us to eat into the naturally balanced wild landscapes that we have left. Cutting down rainforests for corn and soy feed-cows? Not necessary! We must protect the wild spaces we have left to promote biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and cricket farming is aligned with these goals. 


Some vegans don’t want to kill animals because of their capacity to experience pain and suffering, in line with this is the philosophy that these creatures have central nervous systems and shouldn’t be consumed by humans. These are all valid parameters for the vegan diet and support the plant-based diet movement. Normally, these folks are NOT interested in cricket protein, and you know what…I support that. For those who can thrive on a vegan diet, they should, remember I mentioned that nutrition is hugely personalized, and these folks have the capacity to have great environmental impacts on our food systems creating a healthy demand for more whole-unprocessed foods. Yay for vegans!


I have always considered mushrooms to have something akin to a central nervous system, and we now know that trees can feel pain. For me personally, these boundaries and lines are very blurry and I still have nutritional needs. While I was in school obtaining a masters in the science of nutrition, I realized the incredible benefits to vegan diets for 1. The earth 2. Decreasing inflammation, and figured I better try the vegan diet if I was going to suggest it to others clinically. As a nutrition graduate student, I had all of the tools I needed to be a successful vegan- the knowledge that I would need to find strong supplemental sources of iron, protein, b-vitamins etc. 


The one truth I left my graduate studies with was this: Nutrition and diet are personalized. Each genetic profile processes foods uniquely, and there isn’t one diet for EVERYONE. I did not thrive on the vegan diet, I found that the occasional use of red heme-iron carrying meat that was intentionally sourced was hugely therapeutic to my wellbeing. There is a new diet trend that has been coined “ento-veganism”, of course these folks are completely vegan with the exception of insect protein.


So, are crickets vegetarian and vegan? You will be the judge based on your personal criteria, but the answer for Orchestra Provisions is…Maybe, indeed!