Beef bolognese vs. mealworm bolognese: what would you pick?
No one would be surprised when you said beef but brothers Lee and Eli Cadesky, the minds behind C-fu FOODS, have found that mealworm is usually the winner in a blind taste test.
C-fu FOODS is an ingredient supply company creating textured insect protein from crickets and mealworms that can function as a meat, dairy, or egg replacement. Its sister company One Hop Kitchen sells jarred insect-based Bolognese sauce.
Seared C-fu strips
A block of C-fu has as much protein as a block of ground beef with half the saturated fat, a third less cholesterol, and three times the amount of vitamin b12.
“There are bugs in your food already, we’re just more upfront about it,” joked Lee.
While studying dairy science at Cornell University, Lee was motivated to create what would become C-fu FOODS’ textured insect protein by the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report which lauded the potential of edible insects.
“Climate change will impact our food security and probably negatively. We need more robust agricultural systems. We need to focus on climate change not just from a perspective of things getting warmer but on how do we create systems that are more robust, more diversified, and more resistant to shocks. And insects are an excellent solution there,” said Lee.
There are 2,000 documented species of edible insects, and as it turns out, they are pretty easy to farm, especially when compared to cattle. Insects can be farmed in arid climates that don’t support other food production. They like being in close proximity, have a good feed/insect ratio, and don’t need to be kept cool in the summer. They are harvested by simply being frozen. Insect farms tend to be compact, efficient operations.
“Mealworms, for example, in terms of their farming - it’s a very closed system. They don’t even really need light when you raise them, which means you can put them in a bin and raise them 1,000 feet high. It’s the only vertical farm that I know of that really, truly works. Whereas with plants, you still need some way to shine light on everything. Insects can cast a shadow on themselves, and you can’t stack cows…These kinds of closed loop production agricultural systems for food will be very important in the future,” said Lee.
Today, animal agriculture occupies 45% of the global surface area and is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Global meat production is projected to double by 2050, driven largely by rising incomes in developing countries.
“That was a really important reason for us in why we chose to target industrialized countries, especially the U.S. We need to be setting an example for other countries to follow, because even in countries that do consume insects, to a large degree that practice is in decline because people are embarrassed to talk about it, they feel that they won’t be well received by people in the West. Americans dictate a lot of global culture, and a lot of that culture is food,” said Lee.
Another reason C-fu FOODS and One Hop Kitchen have chosen to target developed countries is the cost associated with insect proteins. Insects are not cheap, and they’re more expensive than beef for a variety of reasons. The meat industry is huge and has had decades to develop incredibly efficient practices that cut costs, where the edible insect industry has not. Insect farms also don’t receive the type of subsidies the meat industry does.
“Beef is just really cheap. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed in a broader sense. Economic forces need to adjust to take into account the negative externalities of it. We have talks in Canada for carbon taxes. Those talks right now don’t include the idea of putting one on food products based on their environmental impact – and if we really want to have an impact, they should…If we want to see a change in consumption patterns, we need to create subsidies for sustainable proteins and food products, or start charging the unsustainable [industries] their fair share,” said Eli.
“The politicization of the externalities of food production is not unique to Canada. If you look at the climate summit in Paris, food was not really a discussion point. And food can account for as much as 15% of the total GHGs coming from the agricultural sector…Agriculture contributes a lot to climate change, not to mention water consumption, land degradation, and air quality around animal agricultural operations,” said Lee.
The Cadesky brothers hope that One Hop Kitchen will be a catalyst in normalizing insect consumption as part of a regular diet. According to their philosophy, helping edible insects to be seen for their own culinary potential is one of the first steps in pushing the world towards more sustainable consumption habits.