There’s nothing quite like the look on your postal carrier’s face when she hands you a container reading “Caution, live insects” and you squeal, “Oh, my snacks!”
I’d ordered 100 crickets in an attempt to make a better trail mix. A few months ago, I’d realized that, while I’d never use my grandfather’s backpacking tent (it’s a good 40 pounds), or his hydration strategy (wine!), I still relied on his tried-and-true raisins-nuts-chocolate combo for mid-hike nutrition.
Clearly my trail mix needed a bit of a remix. Not only are nuts heavy to carry, they’re kind of naughty from a sustainability standpoint—according to a Mother Jones story, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce just one of my beloved almonds. So eating them by the handful—the way I tend to do on a long, hard trek—isn't really viable.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be eating bugs,” says Daniella Martin, author of Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet. “They’re incredibly nutritious, they have far higher levels of vitamins like zinc, B-12, and calcium than most animal meat. The slaughtering and processing process are very humane and they can be raised and slaughtered much closer to urban areas than other meat can."
Plus, they're lightweight. A cup of roasted crickets weighs about an ounce, while the same amount of peanuts tips the scale at more than a quarter of a pound. For those of us trying to lighten our loads—both in our packs and on the planet—these little arthropods are a pretty attractive snack.
Of course they’re attractive in concept only. I’d imagined the critters would look something like the cartoon crickets of my youth. When I opened the container and saw their hairy back legs and spindly antennae, I had a true moment of revulsion. Jiminy Cricket, when did you get so heinous?
According to Martin, the biggest hiccup with eating bugs (aside from having to put bugs in your mouth) is that we don't have good insect-eating infrastructure in place. "In Thailand, you can go to the equivalent of Costco and buy a bulk-size bag of frozen crickets," she says.
In the United States, you usually have to order your crickets from a supplier. On Martin's advice, I ordered my crickets from Flukers, a Louisiana-based bait company. The five-week-old variety is the best for eating, and 100 isn't as many as you think—if you're making a big batch of trail mix, spring for 200. The crickets arrive alive and the most humane way to kill them is to transfer them directly into the freezer. Twenty-four-hours later, they're ready to cook.
"There are companies that sell 'human grade' crickets," says Martin, but she adds that most reputable suppliers' bugs will be perfectly safe for consumption. If you're concerned, ask what the crickets are fed—if it's dog food—the gold standard of cricket food—you're good to go.
When cooked, crickets taste something like a cross between a pumpkin seed and an almond. They're crunchy and salty with just a hint of sweetness. And unlike peanuts, when you pull out crickets mid-hike, you're less likely to send your hiking partner into anaphylactic shock—although, it may send them into another type of shock. But that’s not your problem, is it?
Here are two recipes for a cricket-centric trail mix, courtesy of bug-eating advocate Daniella Martin.
100 frozen crickets
1 tsp. olive oil or canola oil (for the pan)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Healthy pinch salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. (You can skip the foil, but know that the crickets will shed some legs and antennae in the baking process. For me, as a first-time cricket cooker, it was really nice not to have to scrub stray cricket appendages off my baking sheet.) Lightly grease the sheet with the oil.
Remove your crickets from the freezer and rinse them thoroughly in a colander. The crickets will have produced an amazing amount of cricket poop in transit so don’t skip this step.
Place the crickets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Bake in the oven, checking them in five-minute intervals. Keep a close eye on the crickets, as they do burn easily. However, it’s better to err on the side of overcooked than undercooked. When undercooked, their abdomens squish rather unappetizingly in your mouth (voice of experience here), so medium rare is not something to strive for. Mine took about 12-14 minutes to cook fully.
Once cooled, toss the crickets with the golden raisins and chocolate chips.
Martin first ate bugs in Mexico where chapulines—or seasoned grasshoppers—are a popular snack. This mix uses authentic-to-Mexico ingredients (except the goji berries) to create a cricket-based snack.
1 cup frozen crickets
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds (often called pepitas)
1/2 cup goji berries (can be substituted with dried blueberries, cranberries, or raisins)
1/4 cup cacao nibs
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne
Olive or canola oil for the baking sheet
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Lightly grease the sheet with the oil.
Remove your crickets from the freezer and rinse them thoroughly in a colander.
Place the crickets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cayenne. Bake in the oven checking them in five-minute intervals. Keep a close eye on the crickets as they do burn easily. However, it’s probably better to err on the side of overcooked than undercooked.
Once cooled, toss the crickets with the pepitas, goji berries and cacao nibs.
By now, it’s become a given: your multivitamin is useless and the right amount of stress, even in our recovery obsessed world, is good. So what, if anything, do we gain by clinging to our antioxidant supplements?
Very little, according to an accumulating body of research. We don't need massive doses of antioxidants, we need stress to compel our own bodies to create antioxidants.
“Everybody thinks oxidation is bad, and that antioxidants are good,” says Dr. Philip Hooper, an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “That’s bogus. A little bit of poison is good.”
That poison can actually come from plants, especially those that have survived harsh conditions. In this Nietzschean diet principle know as xenohormesis, foods that have survived harsh conditions make us stronger by stressing our bodies, not because they’re rich in antioxidants.
As the science quarterly Nautilus explains, plants have developed an arsenal of chemicals to help them ward off insects and grazers. These “antifeedants,” when ingested by humans, trigger the body to release proteins and activate genes that “produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression.”
Plants prepare your body to handle toxins much as exercise prepares you to race—by stressing your body. And supplements, says Dr. Hooper, interrupt this pay-it-forward biological sequence.
“These antioxidant supplements are like a Trojan horse,” continues Dr. Hooper. They say, I’m a good guy. You guys go to sleep and while the defense is asleep the antioxidants get rid of any oxidation. It puts the defense-system’s army to sleep.”
Just as wearing a testosterone patch lowers the body's production of the hormone, relying on supplements reduces the body's natural production of antioxidants.
While Dr. Hooper acknowledges the benefits of vitamin E for muscle cramps and macular degeneration, he scoffs at the idea—as have many others lately—that it improves one’s physical performance.
“We’ve thrown so many millions of dollars at this,” he says. “It’s a misconception and it’s naïve.”And he suggests that athletes in intense contact sports such as soccer and football benefit from trauma. “Players have to be hit with pads on Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to compete on Sundays—they need that actual trauma,” he says.
“Everything in our society is geared toward, 'How can we reduce stress?'” adds Dr. Hooper. “When it should be just the opposite. We need stress. Stress is good.”
If you’re going to have just one piece of fitness equipment make it a medicine ball. Nothing provides as much versatility or challenge. This short med-ball session targets all of your muscles (OK, most of the major groups), but with the bonus of having you fight through the pain when they’re zapped—to give you the muscular endurance to finish any ride or run.
Time: 25 minutes
Equipment: Medicine ball
Body Parts Worked: Upper, lower, and core
How to Do It: Complete as many reps as you can of each exercise in 1 minute. Rest 20 seconds in between each move.
Pushups: Do them with your feet on the ball.
Side slalom jumps: Lateral jumps over the ball.
Ball slams: Raise the ball over your head, then slam ball down to the ground in front of you (best used with a soft ball so the ground absorbs the force and doesn’t bounce back).
Alternating lunge presses: Press the ball above your head while rising from each lunge.
Mountain climbers: Do them with your left hand on the ball for 30 seconds (and right hand on the ground), then your right hand on the ball for 30 seconds (and left hand on the ground).
Squat throws: Holding ball at chest level with both hands, throw it straight up as you explode up from a squat.
Ball crunch: Perform a regular crunch while holding the ball straight up over your head. While crunching up, keep the ball pointed toward the sky.
Slow squat: Hold the ball over your head. Take 3-5 seconds to lower yourself into a squat and 3-5 seconds to stand up. Keep the ball over your head for the entire minute.
Throw and chase: Hold the ball between your legs with both hands. Hinge at your hips to squat and thrust up, tossing the ball underhand as far as you can. Run after it and throw from the new spot.
Pushups: Do them with your hands on the ball.
About this Series
The Wicked Wednesday Workout is designed to help you break up your week with a high-intensity, total-body workout of strength and endurance that uses minimal equipment—to help better prepare your body for the randomness of your weekend at play.
Ted Spiker, who has designed and led backyard and neighborhood workouts for his friends for the past three years, is a journalism professor at the University of Florida who specializes in health and fitness writing. He recommends you pick up a scrap truck tire to add more variety to your workouts.