Paleo Dieters Eat Crickets, Jack Eats Crow

I’ve criticized paleo eaters in the past for not taking their diet seriously and eating bugs (see my article Can a Natural Diet Require Supplements?).

But on Monday, the NY Times ran an article about a paleo dieter who started an energy bar company that uses crickets as the protein source (Energy Bars That Put a Chirp in Your Step).

Excerpt:

“According to the two men’s research, the insects are 69 percent protein by dry weight as compared with 31 percent for chicken breast and 29 percent for sirloin steak; they provide more iron than beef does and nearly as much calcium as milk. They produce one-eightieth the amount of methane that cattle do, and need one-twelfth their feed, based on 100-gram portions of each. And they can reproduce quickly and don’t require acres of grassland to graze.”

A move from people eating mammals and birds to crickets is something I can get behind.

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27 Responses to “Paleo Dieters Eat Crickets, Jack Eats Crow”

  1. Zack Says:

    What if crickets can suffer? It would take many thousands of crickets to replace a single cow, and much more difficult to create humane conditions due to their small size.

  2. Dan Says:

    I respectfully disagree. Are we 100% certain that insects are not sentient? Or do we judge this from our perspective as human beings, rather than the insect’s?

    Stupid of me to say it, but don’t insects want to live? When I was a kid, I used to pull the legs off of bugs and I could see that they clearly were able to appreciate pain – just by virtue of their feverish behavior to get away, the sounds they made, the smells they emitted, their bodily activity. As a human being, I too desire well-being and freedom from suffering and bodily harm. Everything in a cricket’s biological programming, by virtue of evolution and natural selection, moves it toward maintaining its own well-being and freedom from suffering. And who am I to impede that, judge that, or destroy that – merely for the sake of wanting cricket protein bars?

    If we let people eat crickets, by saying that crickets aren’t sentient and can’t feel pain or suffering, they’ll continue to make those same erroneous judgments about chickens, fish and cows. It’s a slippery slope. If we don’t care about species other than ourselves, then we can kill and eat anything. Or perhaps we don’t even care about our own species and we can have no ethical qualms about cannibalizing each other for protein. Some cultures did that. In our enlightened society, it’s appropriately referred to as murder. But I do not understand why it is only murder when it is human beings at stake, and not animals (insects are, after all, in the animal kingdom; plants and fungi are not phylogenetically related to sentient, sapient beings).

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Zak and Dan,

    If you could push a button and replace all bird and mammal consumption with insect consumption, would you do it? It would be a no-brainer for me. And because of that, I want paleo eaters to eat bugs rather than mammals and birds.

    I follow this hierarchy of valuing animal lives differently in my everyday actions. For example, if I were to see an injured dog, raccoon, or bird on the side of the road, I would stop and try to get the animal to a veterinarian. I will not do this for injured insects. In fact, if I thought insects’ lives were as valuable as mammals, I wouldn’t drive at all because it’s inevitable that I will kill insects with my car just about any time I drive (at least during warmer months). If I knew that I would kill a mouse or a chicken every time I drove my car, I wouldn’t do it.

    Are these intuitions mere prejudice because mice and chickens are more like humans than are insects? I’m not so sure. I don’t find mice and chickens to be all that much like humans and I don’t refrain from killing a mouse because I think, “I’d kill this mouse, but she just seems so much like the people I know.”

    From a scientific perspective, I think there is evidence that insects do not have enough brain tissue to assume that they have a self-identity and can be aware of suffering. I might be wrong about this and if so, I definitely need to reconsider my driving habits and views on the paleo diet.

    I have to admit that I violate the perspective that I’m arguing for by capturing spiders and putting them outside rather than just squashing them (although I don’t seem to be too concerned that they might be cold outside). I want to err on the side of caution when I can. But when it comes between a mammal and an insect, I’d side with the creatures that we have a large amount of proof for being conscious.

  4. Dan Says:

    One thing I’ve noticed is that there are far fewer insects on roads and even paved pathways in parks than there are in places like fields, forests and grassland. Therefore, when you are driving, you are less likely to be killing insects than you think. Of course conditions are variable, so if you are driving long distances on the highway on a warm summer evening during mayfly season, you may be killing scores of flying arthropods. A wonderful tradition in Eastern Buddhism was the rainy season – monks and nuns would stay in their monasteries and do intensive meditation retreats at that time, because walking around on paths outside the monastery would cause great loss of insect life. If we could only live like that…

    I appreciate your points and I am confused as to the definition of consciousness and self-identity. It would be interesting to know what philosophers and entomologists, as well as neuroscientists, had to say about things like sentience/sapience. Someone on this website recommended a book back last spring but I can’t recall the title. I’ve been meaning to look for it. I believe it was when you discussed shellfish in one of the ex-vegan stories.

  5. Bertrand Russell Says:

    If you study consciousness (e.g., the writings of Antonio Damasio), you will see that a very significant complexity of neural activity is required for there to exist the actual ability to suffer. Not “sense” (computers and robots can sense), but actually have ethically-relevant experiences. Jack is completely right that the world would be way, way better off if people replaced eating mammals (and birds) with bugs.

  6. Hoss Says:

    Dan wrote: “Stupid of me to say it, but don’t insects want to live?”

    It’s not a stupid question at all. But I’m not sure the answer is as obvious as you seem to think. Do they exhibit self-preserving behaviors? Yes, clearly. Does that mean they “want to live” — or that they “want” anything, for that matter, in any ethically meaningful sense of the word “want”? That part isn’t so clear.

    “Everything in a cricket’s biological programming, by virtue of evolution and natural selection, moves it toward maintaining its own well-being and freedom from suffering.”

    Actually, no; that’s not true. The biological programming favored by natural selection promotes genes, not individual well-being or freedom from suffering. Yes, what’s good for the gene often means self-preservation for the individual, but not always. Consider the mantis who dies from decapitation in order to mate, for example.

    The important question still remains unanswered: are insects capable of suffering in any meaningful way? While self-preserving behavior might be indicative of some degree of sentience, by itself it doesn’t really mean much. Consider that self-preservation is an integral part of most living systems, including plants, fungi, and even single-celled organisms like bacteria. Yet we have no good reason to believe plants, fungi, or bacteria are sentient.

    That said, to be on the safe side, I’ll agree that it’s probably safest to choose plant protein over cricket protein. But when it comes to the “Paleo” fad that Jack is addressing, we’re talking about people who won’t choose plant protein even to spare clearly-sentient organisms like chickens and pigs, much less crickets. So the question is really one of harm reduction.

    “If we let people eat crickets, by saying that crickets aren’t sentient and can’t feel pain or suffering, they’ll continue to make those same erroneous judgments about chickens, fish and cows. It’s a slippery slope.”

    I don’t think so. If anything, by equating maybe-kinda-sentient insects with clearly-sentient chickens, fish, and cows, we give meat eaters a great excuse to keep on eating those same chickens, fish, and cows. The case for vertebrate sentience is a pretty strong one. Why sabotage it by making shaky claims that put cow suffering on an equal footing with insect suffering?

  7. Rhys Says:

    I think the supply of edible insects might be lagging behind the demand somewhat. Although it may be a sort of latent undiagnosed demand that will increase once they’re more available and people have the chance to try them and find that they’re better than they expect. I would eat more insects if they were easier to get, and if I didn’t always end up in living situations where raising insects in or outside my home would be awkward. But I agree that if someone makes it part of their identity to eat like a caveman, it seems like they should be motivated to deal with the inconvenience of finding or raising insects to eat.

    Insects do seem to be becoming more available as there’s more discussion about them being an ethical and eco-friendly alternative to eating animals with larger brains. These energy bars are one example, but there are also more restaurants that serve insects and people are also growing them at home. Here’s an article about an insect raising company that operates from an apartment:

    http://modernfarmer.com/2013/06/eating-bugs-world-entomophagy-harman-johar/

    And next month a book is coming out about an American exploring insect eating in the US and around the world, which could get more people thinking about insects as food:

    http://smile.amazon.com/Edible-Adventure-Eating-Insects-Planet/dp/0544114353/

  8. Sarah Says:

    The United Nations is exploring options for using insects to address world hunger probelms as well! http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44886#.Us6gzGRDsXo

  9. Ayla Says:

    I found this recent text to be rather interesting as well: http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2014/140109_1.html

    Although it predates the paleo time, the analogy of calling paleo folks ‘grass eaters’ may be more accurate than the countless times this phrase was mockingly used on vegans 😉

  10. Dan Says:

    The whole “paleo diet” notion is suspect, simply because of genetic diversity. It’s impossible to know what *your* specific paleolithic or Neolithic ancestors consumed, because diets were so incredibly diverse and locale-dependent, and because how could you ever trace your genetic ancestry back that far?

    Of course there are a few key exceptions – lactase deficiency for example, which tends to be more common in certain human groups – but the whole notion that there is one diet that all individuals are genetically adapted to eating is total nonsense. And let’s not forget, epigenetics…..

  11. Robert C. Jones Says:

    I recently conducted an exhaustive survey of the scientific literature on nonhuman animal sentience (and some other cognitive properties) and the relation of these data to animal welfare laws and practices. The article was published in *Biology and Philosophy*. Here’s a link:

    The scientific literature on insect sentience is scant at best, disappointing considering that almost 99% of the animal kingdom consists of invertebrates. However, there are *some* data to support that claim that insects are capable of experiencing pain and pleasure. At this point, I’d recommend employing the precautionary principle and err on side of the presumption that they are indeed sentient. Of course, if it does turn out that insets are sentient, it certainly does not follow that they are of equal moral significance as trees or mice or humans. That’s a separate but related question and beyond the scope of this post.

    Cheers,
    RC Jones
    Asst. Prof. of Philosophy
    California State University, Chico

  12. Cobie deLespinasse Says:

    Robert C Jones, I’m in Google Chrome and can’t make your link go through.

  13. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Cobie,

    I think Robert forgot to include the link.

  14. Robert C. Jones Says:

    I indeed included the link but the system seems automatically to erase it. Lemme try again here using brackets.

    If it doesn’t work, email me for a copy:

    rcjones[at]mail.csuchico.edu

  15. Robert C. Jones Says:

    Apparently, links are prevented from postings. Again feel free to email me if you’re interested in a copy.

    Cheers,
    Robert

  16. Robert C. Jones Says:

    Jack, is there a way to include links in these postings? Thanks.
    RCJ

  17. Dan Says:

    I agree with Dr Jones completely. We cannot get inside a cricket’s head to see what a cricket sees, feel what a cricket feels, hear what a cricket hears, etc. We can only observe its behavior and neuroanatomy and physiology, and make some very crude and limited inferences about its capacity to experience suffering and enjoy pleasure, etc. But we must bear in mind how grossly limited these judgments are.

    We are born speciesists. When it comes to the intentional act of killing and destruction of life, I am very reluctant to make moral judgments about which species should live (cows) and which should die (crickets).

    I am somewhat influenced by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha, the awakened one). The Buddha taught repeatedly that he who lays down the rod, he who abstains from killing and the destruction of life, marvelously grants to all beings freedom from oppression. Then he in turn enjoys this same freedom from oppression, as a result. Why? Lightness of conscience, freedom from the consequences of killing, freedom from the moral fruits of his or her actions (karmic fruit). In a society where no one kills any living being, no one need fear being killed. In a society where killing and the destruction of life is rampant (as in ours), many, if not most, will fear being killed. I realize that we are “only” talking about crickets, but there is an analogy that can be made here. Ours is a society that has completely debased life at every level from animal to human to plants. Perhaps a turning point will come when a few people realize the inherent value and right to existence free of harm of something as “insignificant” as a cricket.

  18. Hoss Says:

    While “a society where no one kills any living being” may be an inspiring goal, we should also remember that it’s completely unrealistic. Yes, it’s certainly good to have a healthy reluctance to “make moral judgements about which species should live and which should die,” but unfortunately we can’t avoid making such judgements. By necessity, we make them every time we sit down to eat.

  19. Dan Says:

    Hoss, regarding your first point, I was simply stating an ideal to move towards. Having core values such as non-harming (at least non-intentional harming) is very important in life. Where we spend our discretionary dollars (e.g. supporting an industry that kills and maims) is very important in life.

    Regarding your second point, I was responding to Jack’s highly hypothetical question regarding “pushing a button” to replace all animal slaughter with insect slaughter. That is the moral judgement (tradeoff) I wish to avoid, because I see it as a slippery slope. In any case, there is no such button and no such premise exists, so I see it more as a thought experiment and a test of values and beliefs than anything practical or pragmatic.

    Sorry for the high-faluting language. I still drive a car, live in a heated home, contribute to fossil fuel consumption and global warming. Other than these phenomena (which are major) and the consequences of field cultivation on animal death, I feel I no longer directly and intentionally contribute to animal suffering – at least through my dietary choices. Of course, we are talking in this thread not about traditional sentient animals here but about another type of ‘animal’ — insects. Here I agree with Dr Jones’ cautionary principle and I think you made that same point yourself.

  20. Hoss Says:

    Even as a hypothetical thought experiment, Jack’s example can be instructive. In fact, it seems to describe all sorts of concrete situations faced by animal advocates on a regular basis.

    Yes, naturally it would be better to kill neither cows NOR crickets. But, just as in real life, in Jack’s scenario we have no perfect options. We may refuse to push the button, but by doing so we still make a choice: we choose to condemn undoubtedly sentient beings to unspeakable suffering and death. Our insistence on perfection actually becomes an obstacle to doing good.

    To me, a decision NOT to push the button seems a lot like the position of animal rights absolutists who actively oppose reforms to animal agriculture because such imperfect steps don’t abolish all animal use. If our goal is to minimize unnecessary suffering and death, then we don’t have the luxury of such perfect solutions.

  21. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    In this specific case, I do not think my example is completely hypothetical. We have a group of people who want to eat like their paleolithic ancestors and they can choose between eating insects and eating mammals at any given time. I’m suggesting that eating insects is a preferable choice and I was merely illustrating it by using my “button” example.

  22. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Here is the link Robert has been trying to include in his comments:

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10539-012-9351-1

    I’m not sure why it wouldn’t post for him.

  23. Dan Says:

    Speaking pragmatically, are there enough paleo dieters, and enough supply of insects-as-food, and enough potential for adoption of insects-as-food that it would make any dent in farm animal suffering?

    It is dangerous to posit a hierarchy of animal suffering and animal sentience, with humans at the top. This is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place (partly it’s also biblical, that humans “have dominion over all God’s creatures”). Here we may be positing that one cow’s life is worth a thousand cricket deaths. In my opinion, there is already too much doubt about how we measure and assess sentience in beings other than ourselves to start making these moral judgements over which species can live and which will die to fill our dinner plates. But that’s just an opinion and could well be wrong.

  24. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    > This is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place (partly it’s also biblical, that humans “have dominion over all God’s creatures”).

    My view is that what got us in this mess is that humans needed to exploit animals for many centuries and so they created philosophies to allow themselves to justify it. But the exploitation came before the philosophies, the philosophies did not create the exploitation, although once the philosophies were in place they made it easier to make the exploitation worse.

    Are you worried that if we say that humans are more important than mosquitos, it is a slippery slope to eating chimpanzees? I doubt this is the case. Just discussing which beings are sentient, suffer, or can be harmed is a huge step forward. Harm reduction has rarely been the basis for morality except for in very small circles. Do you ever hear a politician talking about how we can reduce the most human suffering (much less animal suffering)?

    I’m now rambling, so I’ll stop.

  25. Hoss Says:

    “It is dangerous to posit a hierarchy of animal suffering and animal sentience, with humans at the top.”

    I’d say it’s dangerous *not* to posit a hierarchy of animal suffering and animal sentience — that is, unless we have some astoundingly good reason to believe that all animals are equally sentient, and that crickets suffer just as much as cows. The evidence we have so far, however, seems to indicate just the opposite. To ignore that evidence — imperfect as it is — means we risk causing vastly more suffering, not less.

    I’ll put aside the question of whether humans are at the top of such a hierarchy, because that’s really another issue. In any case, a hierarchy of sentience doesn’t necessarily entail human superiority, at least not in all cases.

    Finally, on a more general level, how does one exist *without* positing some sort of hierarchy of animal sentience and suffering? I mean, even putting aside the vast numbers of vertebrates killed by crop farming, there are all sorts of tiny insects and other invertebrates who necessarily die when we harvest and eat plants. If we believe these animals are just as sentient and capable of suffering as humans, how do we eat anything? How do we go outside, for fear of stepping on a bug?

  26. Dan Says:

    Jack, Hoss, these are excellent comments, and I do not have a response to them. I do worry about justifying our bad habits because “oh heck, virtually anything we do causes some lifeform to suffer.” I was having an argument about my vegan dietary beliefs with a colleague who eats meat and actually enjoys hunting (archery) of rabbits and the like. He said that unless I lived in a hut in the Sahara, I was a hypocrite, because, here, as we sat and had this conversation, we were in a building that was constructed by destroying animal habitats. At the time, I had no proper response to this, but looking back, I realize that every bit we do makes a difference. Not sitting in a building that was created 60 years ago is not going to bring any of those dead animals back to life (though, certainly, heating that building is causing climate change on some small level – i.e. it is one of billions of contributions). So, in my own case, when I walk in the park, I do not walk on the grass but on the concrete paths where the ants and other insects are much easier to see and avoid. Except in times where these small invertebrates are having their mating season, I have found there are very few insects on the paths anyways – there is no food there, and they are barren, dry, dessicated, exposed, and unprotected from predators (and no doubt accidental injury – like getting stepped on!). When I drive, I try to consolidate all my errands, meetings, etc. in a single drive, and not use the car multiple times, but I am not always successful at this.

    My point is that every little bit one can do can help. If you actually think that vegans supporting our paleo brothers and sisters to eat cricket bars is actually going to prevent sentient higher-order animals from suffering, do it. Perhaps as the world starts eating more insect protein, we will see less slaughter and suffering of cows, chickens, lamb, turkeys, and so forth. It seems like a reasonable equation. Fried crickets have been a delicacy in southeast Asia for many, many years. Are they eating less animal protein as a result?

  27. Jack Norris RD Says:

    > we were in a building that was constructed by destroying animal habitats.

    And undoubtedly, insects and other bugs were killed. But vertebrate animals might have found another place to live, hopefully. (I’m not arguing for destroying habitat, and a lot of habitat is destroyed to grow animal feed to provide meat.)

    > Are they eating less animal protein as a result?

    Good question. I hope so!

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