If I am allergic to shellfish, am I allergic to crickets?

Am I allergic to crickets if I am allergic to shellfish?

 

Great question, and one to be taken seriously. Usually humans have fear surrounding mystery, and the goal of this post is to create smart skeptics and eliminate fear of our own immune systems. The immune system is a great mystery itself. This is a field in medicine that is so complex we have yet to ground a full understanding of how it works, so it is no wonder many people would rather avoid certain foods completely than risk a reaction.

 

I had an amazing opportunity in my graduate education at the National University of Natural Medicine to take a class on food intolerances, allergies, aversion, toxicity and sensitivities. During that class I created this visual (Click visual to view) to help people understand the differences between the five. This immunologic study helped me to understand the basics concerning immune modulated responses to food. The most imminent and scary reaction we all think of when we think of food reactions is an IgE mediated response (think peanuts). This is a food allergy that can result reactions ranging from an itchy throat, on up to the narrowing of an airway and inability to breathe. Scary, yes… the latter is also known as anaphylaxis. These folks often carry epinephrine around when they may be at risk of accidentally eating something with hidden peanuts (or whatever their specific allergy trigger may be). Anaphylactic reactions mediated by IgE antibodies can happen from bee stings, other environmental offenders and plenty of other foods.

 

Whenever an allergic reaction is taking place, this is the effect of a protein. As much as science has enlightened us up until this point, proteins are the elements of food the immune system finds offensive.

 

Another food group people often have troubles with are shellfish. This is a complicated matter in and of it’s own because there are a multitude of proteins in each crustacean, so it is hard to isolate one protein to figure out which protein it is that is truly causing a reaction. To make things even more complicated, each type of shellfish has multiple proteins. For instance, a lobster may have some proteins in common with a shrimp, but many other proteins as well. In shrimp, scientists have found tropomyosin to be an offender that binds to IgE antibodies. This New York Times article is a great explanation on the topic, and more accessible than some of the scientific studies out there:

 

https://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/28/health/studies-unmask-protein-culprit-behind-allergy-to-shrimp.html

 

To understand the seafood/shellfish/arthropod interactions that can occur in the body, here is a more scientific review with some helpful visuals:

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3294628/

So…crickets are arthropods. Shellfish are arthropods. A little refresher on how the animal classification system works: Domain-kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus-species. Arthropods are a very large phylum, arguably one of the most successful phylum of the animal kingdom. More than 800,000 species of arthropods exist, including members millipedes, centipedes, spiders, scorpions, lobsters and crabs. For more on this particular topic you can check this resource out:

 

http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1995/5/95.05.08.x.html

 

Hopefully the information provided shows you how broad the classification of phylum-arthropod truly is. Now envision how many proteins make up the arthropod phylum. Surely being allergic to one member, shrimp, does not logically mean you are allergic to every single member of the arthropod phylum. Now…why would I put a cautionary warning on my cricket spices, if there wasn’t a strong reason to do so?

 

The FDA does not yet have a thorough system in place to ensure regulatory measures by the astringent standards of the “western world”. Up until now, the FDA regulates insects as an unavoidable inclusion of what inevitably wanders into human crops. You may have seen a caterpillar inside of a raspberry? Or maybe a beetle in your quinoa every now and again? Insects have also been intentionally included in food stuffs beyond recognition of the general public for quite some time. The most recent example of this application in the media might be that of the dactylopius coccus that when crushed creates a red cochineal dye that Starbucks was using to color it’s Frappuccinos red. More on that here:

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/03/30/149700341/food-coloring-made-from-insects-irks-some-starbucks-patrons

 

In my humblest of opinions, proper parameters for regulating and studying the use of crickets as human food will not be in place until the industry makes enough money for the FDA to deem it worth the efforts to try to manage. Of course, more research and regulation benefit everyone involved in the industry, bringing legitimacy to its reputation as a safe foodstuff. Luckily for the smart and sustainably motivated insect eaters of the western world, I believe this time is right around the corner as millions of dollars annually are already being made off crickets by companies like Exo, Chapul, Thailand Unique, Cowboy Crickets, Cricket Flours, Chirps, Bitty Foods, Crick Nutrition, Entomo Farms, Aspire Foods and of course our very own Orchestra Provisions.

 

For now, the FDA is telling people to be wary of crickets if you have an allergy to shellfish, because they are in the same phylum as crustaceans. I hope after having read this post, you know that this is a warning to be taken both seriously, and with a grain of salt. As of now, it is good to consult with your physician, or make sure you have Benadryl near if you have a shellfish allergy and plan on branching out to try this smart and time-tested protein source. With that being said, many people who have shellfish allergies have been fine consuming cricket protein. As with all of our unique immune considerations, proceed at your own risk. Who knows, once science is funded to study the proteins that make up crickets, I may be able to take the allergy warning off my labeling, but for now I will leave it… JUST IN CASE!

 

 

Kate Stoddard
A utilitarian quandary & the “eat local” movement

 

As a rural small business owner with a big vision to positively impact a future where sustainability is concerned, I think a lot about the measurement of sustainability and the way I interact with the marketplace at large. In order to see great change, I must reach out to a market that is far beyond local to my own. Will these changes have greater impacts that outweigh the negative effects of reaching beyond my locality? I sure hope so.

 

I have a spring, summer and fall cellar share at my local CSA (Swift River Farm) https://www.swiftriverfarm.org/csa. I try to buy seasonal vegetables and fruits, and local whenever possible. I always check for products locally before resorting to the online market, seeking to build up my local economy and businesses before forfeiting to the faceless, online abyss. When I finally do give in to the invisible internet market, I ask myself…do I truly NEED this? Usually the answer is no, not at all, but more commonly with my business the answer is yes.

 

I know all of the challenges associated with the concept of utilitarianism, which rates acts in their utility for effecting greater good positively. There are many problems with this concept that we don’t need to explore for the purposes of this blog entry, but the idea feels charmed from a far and overall is welcoming to the calculated type. I wonder if being a stalwart and never deviating from your values outweighs the long term good if it means your business doesn’t succeed? I know that I can make great change from a rural location where education is invaluable, economic growth is necessary yet tandemly frowned upon if unconventional. This is a truth for a demographic of folks averted to changes that influence their ability die in the same place they fell in love with decades previous.

 

My product is a gourmet seasoning. I am working on having local farmers grow many of the herbs and spices I need to build my line of products, but for now I source my herbs from Starwest Botanicals (west coast local), but hardly local to Idaho. This company is one I admire with shared values and good business practices both where humans and environment are concerned. Starwest is large enough to offer competitive prices for a startup like mine, rooted in rural territory. I source my crickets from Cowboy Cricket Farms https://www.cowboycrickets.com/ in Belgrade Montana, which it turns out is closer than Idaho’s first cricket farm EcoBalance in southern Idaho. Of course, I would love to work with both farms, as I strongly believe we need to bolster each other in order to make a common dream come true. Good business is shared business.

 

Eat local, amen. You are never as powerful as when you spend your dollar in your own town, and you are never as connected as when you feed your children food grown from the soil they play in. Why on earth have we devolved so far away from the local food systems that maintain the true balance that only nature can achieve? By now most people are aware that when your farmer down the street grows vegetables in an organic manner that maintains biodiversity and soil health, the food is more nutritious and delicious. When you pay that neighbor for their labors, they pay it back into the local food system, or at least the local economy which starts to thrive. The food doesn’t get in a truck, so no need for chemicals that preserve or keep pests out, and no need for the petrol that gets the truck (in my case) way out into the middle of everywhere. Local farmers make more money when you pay them directly, cutting out the middle man and decreasing the time food is subject to oxidative damage, other people touching and interacting with it etc. From a public health perspective, it is clear that people are usually the dirty disease spreaders…not food. There are many, measurable and otherwise positive effects of eating locally and participating in your local economy.

 

I am so lucky to live in a rural community where individuals are still operating (more or less) in a specialized world. We COULD sustain on the barter system. We somehow failed to be as shaped by urban technology, but concurrently use it as a resource. This is a culture of DIY-ers who can use the internet as a resource but not be owned by it’s addictive spells. This culture is one that shuns social media in exchange for a face to face interaction at the farmer’s market. If the greater world collapsed we may be the last to know, and simultaneously thrive as a result. I know the gal who makes it possible for her husband to raise a small number of very healthy cows that eat grass throughout their lifespan by (what a goddess) caring for three sons and a daughter. I am friends with our local CSA owners/farmers who are currently undergoing the strenuous process to obtain organic certification. I personally know the guy I would run to if my son cracked his head open. We are chock full of tradesmen, farmers, biologists, healers, and others who could contribute to the local tribe’s overall wellness.

 

And yet…people still turn to the ease and free shipping of Amazon Prime. Our local ranch supply store is challenged by the corporate monster Murdoch’s and you are pressed to find local beef in our market even though everywhere you look there are cows pooping. This community has the great opportunity to use other failures and successes as a template to map out a path to healthy, mindful growth. Despite discouraging setbacks where a school bond doesn’t pass, likely because of folks who move to rural Idaho because the taxes are so low aren’t invested in the future of the town…heck the world, it is all connected yes? I actually heard someone who asked about my product in Teton Valley say this “I won’t be around when we actually HAVE to eat crickets, so don’t waste your breath”. Her children stood beside her and listened.

 

Eating local is incredibly important, yet we are all connected despite our isolation. The turds from the cows raised here will inevitably wash into the Salmon river, which will run it’s course through the wilderness to it’s destination in the salty sea. When I vertically integrate my business, I will serve crickets to people in Boise, Missoula, New York City, Shanghai? We have a unique opportunity and imminent responsibility here in Salmon, Idaho, where folks complain that “There used to be jobs here, when the mine was still open. There used to be work here, when we could cut all of the timber down and the logging industry was booming here.” We are at the edge of the largest protected wilderness area in the lower forty-eight, curtesy of Idaho’s (last?) great senator Frank Church. I digress.

 

I think it is possible to be completely involved and supportive of local food movements and economies, while simultaneously working to evolve the way people think about food for more sustainable outcomes globally. I will continue to ship my product out of the Lemhi valley, hoping that whoever is measuring outcomes, sees mine as a positive one. However, I am not blind to the reality that sometimes to make impacts you have some unintended and undesirable outcomes along the way. I suppose this is where I shield my heart with utilitarian values and believe my intent is pure. We cannot become immobilized by the fear of doing wrong, we must move forward with a kind heart and embrace humility because we are imperfect. And when we mess up we own our failures to rise to the occasion and solve the problem, because we have many opportunities to participate in the movements that are important to us.

 

Eat local.

Kate Stoddard
Babies and Bugs!

What could be more personal than food? Probably the only answer to that would be the food that you feed your child. There are many considerations, and double the advice on this matter. So, when I propose crickets as one of the most obvious super-food solutions to many of the developing child’s needs, I can see how there would be a grand backlash.

I don’t want to eat insects, why would I feed them to my child? Perhaps you should want to eat crickets as our survivalist paleolithic ancestors did, and perhaps baby’s palettes and intuition should be more guiding than culture’s non-logic based aversions.

A mother is trained to be protective of her child, this is what keeps the gene-pool alive right? Of course this is a cut and dry answer to a dynamic that is laden with hormones and the emotions that follow, so as a mother, I would rather think of rearing a child as my life’s work and legacy, creating a best friend and a family member that makes life worth living! So I can see how a non-traditional but heavily important historical food source such as cricket would be revulsive to the modern parent regarding childhood development and meal time. But here’s the thing, crickets are quite delicious and nutritious…let’s take a deeper look:

Childhood development- nutrition of a growing human being

The question of:

  • Increased demand for iron. Iron is not transmitted to child from breastmilk so baby travels through the first few months of life with the iron stores the placenta provided. This is one of the reasons the AAP recommends introducing solid foods around 6 months of age. Iron is important for (but not limited to) carrying oxygen throughout the body and brain development. Iron-rich foods like spinach and prunes are common foods that provide baby with the iron he/she slowly runs out of during breastfeeding. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528681/)

  • Increased demand for B-vitamin complex. B-vitamins are important in countless ways in the human body, but on the most basic level they are the substrate that fuels energy production of each cell. Of course you can imagine the type of energy demands a human baby requires, since the type of growth a human child undergoes in the first year is almost unparalleled. B-vitamins are also extremely important for nervous system function. (https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/3/3/362/4644773)

  • Increased demand for omega-3 fatty acids. We learn more and more that fatty acids are crucial for proper brain development. I don’t need so say more, but I will. Omega’s are necessary for the inflammation process, both healthy inflammation and anti-inflammatory processes. Essential fatty acids play an important role in healthy endocrine function…and I WILL stop there as not to overwhelm. (https://www.ocl-journal.org/articles/ocl/full_html/2011/06/ocl2011186p307/ocl2011186p307.html)

  • Increased demand for calcium. This is the one we all know too well. Bones growing, getting bigger…gotta’ have ample calcium. Calcium does a whole lot more, but we won’t get into that here. (https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/pregnancy)

  • Increased demand of protein. Protein is necessary for growth of tissues, immune function and much more. (https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/protein)

ALERT: Crickets are an excellent source of protein, iron, b-vitamins (especially B12), omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids and calcium! Not only are crickets a good match nutritionally, but they provide heme-iron. Vegetable and fruit sourced iron are non-heme and less absorbable in the human body.

The Milk debacle: Breast milk v. formula v. cow milk and why it is relevant to cricket powder

When you do a search online to find out if your baby NEEDS cow’s milk at the age of 12 mo. as is usually suggested, it is suspicious that the top few hits are backed by big AG dairy. I mean of course that’s the case, but is it truly necessary to feed your baby cow’s milk? This is not an issue I am willing to touch with a ten-foot stick. Instead, I will chat a bit about the different forms of milk and their benefits, also that crickets could be an excellent supplemental addition to each form of milk as baby transitions to toddlerhood- 12 months and beyond.

Breastmilk: The most absorbable form of baby nutrition, easy to digest and vitamins assimilate effectively. Immune system is passed down from mother to infant. High in essential fatty acids required for brain development. The perfect-nature-designed infant food.

Formula: Excellent form of nutrition for moms who have had supply issues, desire not to breastfeed, have trouble integrating breastfeeding (it is a HUGE commitment!) into a busy work life and many of the other valid reasons! Formulas are fortified with all of the baby’s essential nutrition needs.

Cow’s milk at 12 mo.: Many suggest cow’s milk be introduced to a toddler diet starting at 12 months. The toddler has presumably developed well enough to handle the more complex animal proteins within cow milk. Indeed, cow milk packs a punch taking care of many bullet points on the nutritive list: Calcium, fats, protein, B-vitamins etc. This is why cow’s milk is so popular for parents who want to make sure their growing baby gets their needs met. Some parents would rather not go that route, and that is okay too! Perhaps goats milk, soy, or any of the nut milks that are fortified are a great sub. See where I am going here? A little cricket powder mixes well with baby food and formulating taste preferences are free of aversion-taint at this point!

Need a clean source of cricket powder protein? No problem:

https://www.cowboycrickets.com/cricket-powder

Need them “dressed-up” and hidden behind delicious flavors? Well look no-further, once baby is eating spiced foods (In Indian culture this is straight from the get with solid foods) the whole family can benefit from a sprinkling of Orchestra Provisions spices.

https://www.orchestraprovisions.com/

Before everyone rushes the cricket farm, please BE aware! Just as any allergic reaction (IgE-mediated) response requires a protein, crickets contain protein! It is possible that a child could have an allergic reaction to crickets. This is not dissimilar to the nature of a child having an allergic reaction to any other protein such as gluten, cow milk protein, soy, seafood etc. If your child is sensitive or has a family history of food allergies, please proceed knowing that crickets may cause a similar reaction.(https://academic.oup.com/toxsci/article/55/2/235/1735901)

It would be smart to avoid incorporating crickets into your child’s diet until other proteins are recommended by your physician. For a comprehensive guide on age appropriate foods travel on this way:

https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=feeding-guide-for-the-first-year-90-P02209

Also, I am enjoying this book:

http://www.superbabyfood.com/

Bon Appetit

Kate Stoddard, MScN

Kate StoddardComment