As the population of our world increases and the amount of space decreases, there seems to be a growing concern regarding sustainability. Movies, such as Food, Inc., and books, including Michael Pollen’s An Omnivore’s Dilemma, have increased awareness about the unsustainable practices of modern farming. Many people choose to lessen their impact and contribute to a more sustainable future. While some subsist on a vegetarian or vegan diet, others buy locally raised meats. And then there’s Meghan…
Meghan Curry is a 29 year-old entomologist from Texas who eats bugs. That’s right – from Mealworm Pizza to Spinach Salad with Ant Larvae, this women isn’t afraid of a few extra legs. However, Meghan hasn’t always been a proponent of eating insects. After an academic debate about global nutrition and food sustainability turned her on to the idea, she has refocused her career from studying insects to promoting and educating the West about edible insects as a serious food source (also known as entomophagy). These new goals resulted in the birth of her LLC and website Bug Vivant.
Meghan’s website wasn’t what first grabbed the climbing community’s attention, however; it was her solo ascent of Mescalito (on El Capitan), during which she chose to only eat insect-based foods. (And if that didn’t get your attention I bet Manny, the giant inflatable cricket she had hanging from her haul bag, certainly did.) Deeming her climb the “Bug Wall”, she powered her adventure with energy bars made from cricket flour, cricket protein shakes, mealworm chili, and cricket rice.
Proper nutrition is a vital component to big wall climbing. In order for your body to function at its best, it must intake the proper balance of fats, carbs, proteins, and calories. Brian Rigby of Climbing Nutrition says that overall, the diet of a big wall climber should consist of 60-75% carbs, 5-15% protein, and 15-25% fat, using personal preference to adjust within those percentages. But that still leaves us with the question, why insects? According to Meghan, “Those driven by health and environmental motives may be well served by an entotarian lifestyle because edible insects are loaded with protein, vitamins, and trace minerals while being incredibly efficient to produce.” For example, crickets contain 31 grams of protein per 200 calorie serving (more than beef, chicken, or eggs) and 7.2 grams of fiber. They also require less water, feed, and land for production compared to larger livestock.
While entomophagy is a common component to the human diet in many other cultures throughout the world, the West has resisted, holding on to the stigma that eating bugs is gross. The FAO reports that, “From ants to beetle larvae – eaten by tribes in Africa and Australia as part of their subsistence diets – to the popular, crispy-fried locusts and beetles enjoyed in Thailand, it is estimated that insect-eating is practiced regularly by at least two billion people worldwide.” So I guess the question we really should be asking is, why not insects?
A couple weeks ago, as I descended the East Ledges after my own trip up El Capitan, I ran into Meghan headed down from the Bug Wall. I asked her how the wall went and after a couple minutes of chatting she offered me some left over cricket bars and cricket rice – I was caught completely off guard. My initial reaction was “No thanks, I’m vegetarian,” however, as the words came out of my mouth it didn’t feel quite right. I don’t refrain from eating meat because I’m vegetarian – I refrain from eating meat because I disagree with the way most animals are raised and killed, don’t agree with exploiting our land for the mass production of livestock, and believe in the health benefits of a plant-based diet. So where do insects fit in relation to these issues? I had no idea – I had never been offered cricket bars before, therefore, I had never considered what my opinion and reaction would be to such an offer. The rest of the hike down I lost myself deep within this thought process. Although Meghan’s primary goal is to promote edible insects as food, if more people begin to examine their food choices in response to her climb, then I believe her efforts are having a positive impact, whether those people eat insects or not.
Check out a full trip report of the Bug Wall here!