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Cricket Powder and Larva Sausage: Dr. Aaron T. Dossey Is Solving the Food Sourcing Riddle, One Bug at a Time

Sometimes the obvious solution to a problem is crawling around at our feet.

Roughly 1.6 billion people are malnourished. Simple math tells us that when the global population reaches 9 billion in 2050, that figure will be much higher. With food sourcing already a growing concern throughout the world, there will soon be a lot of hungry people out there. That means a lot of menus are going to have to change. Therein lies the problem.

But Dr. Aaron T. Dossey, founder of the startup All Things Bugs LLC, has a plan. And yes, it involves eating insects.

aaron dossey and his edible bugs quoted
Tacos and sausages, who would ever complain? The Gates Foundation thought the mealworm was a brilliant idea!

A Bug Company, Hatched

“My company was one of the first in the US, if not the first, producing insect-based food ingredients,” says Dossey. “It was the first in the western hemisphere selling wholesale, maybe the world.” The chief editor and author of Insects as Sustainable Food Ingredients, Dossey has long championed the notion of dining on creepy-crawlies, with All Things Bugs’ larval stage coming via a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant in 2011. Its subsequent metamorphosis has been guided by funding from the US Department of Agriculture and DARPA—funding that has aided in the development of their patent-pending Griopro cricket powder, a sustainable food that’s rich in protein.

Meanwhile, the industry itself has expanded dramatically, with financial projections putting about $1.18 billion into the market by 2023.

Says Dossey, “Since All Things Bugs started, the industry has grown from three or fewer companies to 30-50 or more in North America at this point, 80 or more in Europe and many in Central/South America and Asia. I am not as familiar with Africa but I am sure there are some there, too. Remember, I am talking about prepared foods and insect-based ingredients. I know whole insects have been eaten all over the world for thousands of years by various human groups.”

a photo quote of Aaron Dossey about utilizing edible bugs as a protein source
As All Things Bugs founder and owner Aaron Dossey points out, edible bugs are certainly an abundant food source.

Insects as Food: The Cold, Crunchy Facts

According to Dossey, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant was born from the noblest of intentions.

“The announcement for that project was to do something to alleviate malnutrition in children,” he says. “My proposal was to make a food product to treat malnourishment in children using insects as a primary protein source.”

At its most basic level, the idea wasn’t a new one. Over two million people in Latin America, West Africa and Southeast Asia claim insects as part of their diet. Insects are, after all, high in protein, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. In other words, they’re pretty darn nutritious.

aaron dossey and edible bugs quoted
Desirable traits–bugs can definitely have them.

But Dossey’s research has added a layer of complexity to the whole nutrition aspect. He points out that insects have a low level of saturated fat, good omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, B vitamins… he even throws in gut health as a benefit.

And then there’s the whole “bugs versus livestock” debate…

a photo quote of Arnold Van Huis about rearing edible bugs
Arnold Van Huis shares one of the environmental advantages of rearing edible bugs for food.

Bugs vs Livestock: A Sustainability Debate

Cows are much bigger than bugs. This is indisputable. And the space and resources required to raise and maintain livestock dwarfs that required for insects. In fact, insects are remarkably efficient and prolific when it comes to reproduction. Cultivating them requires minimal space, making them ideal for urban environments and vertical farming.

For livestock, nearly 6 kilograms of feed is needed for every 1 kilogram of weight gained. But for edible bugs, such as crickets, this ratio is about 2 kilograms or less for every kilogram increase. When it comes to the bug vs. livestock debate, it isn’t even really a debate from a sustainability perspective.

Biodiversity: Elephant in the Room

In the All Things Bugs’ laboratory, Dossey has developed a wide variety of insect-based products, including pasta, tortillas, puffed snacks (“Think cheese puffs!”), cereals and alternative meats. Without question, these prototypes all point to a diverse range of food options. But what of the issue of biodiversity? If the world were to wholly embrace insects as a food source to feed the human population, how would that impact the biosphere?

Says Dossey, “The elephant (or the massive meteor headed our way) in the room is: Feed what size of the human population? The one we have now? A little less?  One growing infinitely/exponentially? Even the most efficient systems we can ever think about have their limits as to how many we can feed.” In other words, although eating insects might seem like a food sourcing panacea, there are no magic bullets for infinite human population growth. “The main goal is to reduce the amount of land and resources used by humans and allow more lands to go back to their natural pre-human states. Using a much more efficient and robust resource like insects is an important part of the solution.”

aaron dossey quoted
Aaron Dossey plays favorites!

“Do we have the right to irreversibly alter the entire ecosphere and drive thousands of species to extinction and permanent habitat loss?” says Dossey. “On biodiversity loss, insects are the canary…. no, the 22-year-old Olympic swimmer in the coal mine. If we are losing them, things are really bad.”

Accepting Our Crunchy Future

Dossey and All Things Bugs are not alone in their crusade. A growing number of other startups have embraced edible insects as the future. Among them include Entomo Farms, which is pursuing the clinical and health benefits of insects. Likewise, companies like Bitty, Chapul, and Crunchy Critters are all exploring how to advance edible insects into the mainstream. But is the world ready to embrace worm sausage and taco meat?

“I would say with very little discussion, education and the right presentation (like a prepared product made with insect powder), a majority of Americans are at least open to the idea, if not supportive and see the benefits. Again, I am not talking whole insect or novelty ‘Fear Factor-y’ stuff. Presentation is important.”

edible bugs, aaron dossey quoted
Bugs have quite a future in the hands of Aaron Dossey and his company, All Things Bugs.

Still, Dossey is hedging his bets. After all, there’s more to food sourcing than just the actual food. “We also plan to offer insect feed formulations, consulting and automated insect farming and harvesting/freezing equipment and solutions.”

One Closing Chirp: The Future is Here to Stay

Dossey is optimistic about the acceptance of insect-based food. There’s too much science behind all the reasons why. Say’s Dossey, “I predict that a majority of Americans will have seen at least one insect-based food product in their local environment (grocery, restaurant, gas station, GNC or other health product store, etc.) within the next five years, and within 10 years most major grocery chains will carry a least one insect-based product.”

He adds: “I believe this insect-based food product is here to stay. In 20 years, I believe insects will be a more common food ingredient than quinoa is now and probably on par with whey or soy.”

A Bug Scientist's Advice on Starting a Business
Dr. Aaron Dossey offers some wisdom for budding entrepreneurs.

State Education Rankings Infographic

Why the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings Are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Pursuing a college education is a significant life milestone. To a certain extent, picking a university can be as crucial as choosing which college major to take. Thus, families take time in selecting the right university for their children. Published United States college rankings can be a good starting point when trimming down choices. People anticipate the publication of the United States college rankings as a new batch of students enter universities and colleges every year. While college rankings may be the go-to source of information, there are always criticisms and doubts around it. What is the basis for these rankings? Most significantly, are college rankings relevant?

cartoon of a student being asked which universities are really the best?
Would you make decisions out of the results of the U.S. News and World Report University Rankings?

U.S. News and World Report College Rankings: How Universities Make the Cut

The U.S. News and World Report college rankings are the oldest and most famous United States college rankings. In fact, the publication of “America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News and World Report in 1983 has spun an interest in university rankings across the globe. Published annually since 1987, the U.S. News and World Report college rankings offer an overview of the country’s leading educational institutions and academic programs. The gathering of data is from online surveys and there are a set of indicators from which the rating of institutions come from.

united states college rankings, students may be influenced by these rankings
The U.S. News and World Report college rankings have included indicators that have been found questionable.

The numbers and weights of indicators may change yearly. For 2019, Educational Outcomes had a 35% share. This criterion includes social mobility, graduation/retention rates, and graduation rate performance. Faculty resources (Class Size, Faculty Salary, Faculty Ratio, and Proportion) and Expert Opinion (Peer Assessment and High School Counselor Assessment) both weighted at 20%. Financial Resources and Student Excellence get 10% each, and Alumni Giving gets 5%.

U.S. news and world report university rankings, peter scott quoted
Improving the United States college rankings is a major challenge, but the fact that they may continue to influence decisions is quite conclusive.

The Disparity in Rankings and Successful Educational Outcomes

California, Massachusetts, and New York rank as the top three states with the most number of schools included in the recent U.S. News and World Report University Rankings lists. However, it is interesting to note that in higher education rankings, the state of Florida takes the top spot. Massachusetts drops to the 27th spot while California and New York make the 4th and 15th spot, respectively. Observers attribute the disparity of the results with the markers used in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

One point of contention posed against rankings is that indicators that spell student success (standardized student tests and percentage of the population who are college educated) were assigned lower value. Similarly, the inclusion of measures that do not contribute to a successful educational outcome (faculty salary, faculty ratio, and proportion, alumni donation) has also been an object of discussion. The removal of these indicators changed the rankings significantly. Critics of published rankings point out that by focusing on actual educational outcomes, “top schools” were shown to be more geographically scattered. The inclusion of geographical diversity in the picture offers more options to students in their pursuit of higher education.

U.S. News and World Report University rankings, dr. kevin downing quoted
Personal research versus the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, which one will weigh more for students in the future?
State Education Rankings Infographics

United States College Rankings: From Yardstick of Excellence to Reputation Play

U.S. News and World Report college rankings and other similar lists have carved out a substantial influence in the field of higher education. The prestige of having more “top schools” within a state has encouraged policymakers to adjust educational spending. Families refer to United States college rankings when deciding which school to enroll. With more talents within reach, businesses prefer setting up near “ranking” schools. From the schools’ perspective, there is a perceptible decline in freshmen applications in each slip in the ranking. At times, rankings can impact the school’s research funding and alumni donations. Therefore, with this reliance on established rankings, these lists have commoditized higher education. Regrettably, what was meant as a yardstick of excellence has turned into a reputation play.

At the individual level, United States college rankings help simplify an otherwise complex and rigorous task of choosing a university. Collectively, rankings have assisted the academic field in setting policies and guidelines. Moreover, it has guided government funding and spending and aided the business sector in developing business strategies and investment priorities. Without a common measure provided by school rankings, informed decisions would have been impossible.

Certainly, inclusion in the “top schools” list has its perks. However, in order to restore the credibility of United States college rankings, exclusivity, prestige, and status need to take a backseat. Players within this space need to remember that United States college rankings are there to espouse transparency of information. Thus, for families and students standing at the crossroads of life, the information that the school rankings offer to make an informed decision has never been more relevant.