Tag Collective
Tag Collective

Exo Turns Crickets Into Protein Bars

Tag Collective
Tag Collective

"Our company exists solely for the purpose of making this normal. To make the idea of eating insects not be weird," Gabi Lewis says of Exo, the cricket-based protein bar company he co-founded with his college roommate, Greg Sewitz. "So today we have to disguise it and turn it into a protein bar, hide it somewhat. If we’re successful then in ten years we’ll see people eating whole crickets."

An admirable goal, but one that prompts the question: Why eat insects in the first place?

THE CASE FOR CRICKETS

"People, the first time they hear about this, have the most intense visceral disgust reflex. It’s just, like, instant," Lewis says. But despite what your initial reaction might be, eating insects isn't all that weird—people all over the world, in many different countries, count insects as a part of their diets. Ultimately, it all depends on your perspective. "[Drinking] milk is so weird if you think about it," Lewis says.

Then there's the fact that crickets are great for you. These chirping insects, which are more often associated with camping than culinary excellence, are a veritable superfood. They have more iron than beef and more calcium than milk. They're low in saturated fat and sugar. And they're a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids.

Eating them is environmentally responsible, too. Crickets require less food, less water, and less space to farm than most other forms of protein. They reproduce efficiently, reach maturity quickly, and produce 80 times less methane gas than cattle. All of this is good news in combating climate change and supporting increasing populations. (If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of eating bugs, check out this report that the United Nations published on the subject last year.)

TURNING CRICKETS INTO PROTEIN BARS

Despite all those facts, Lewis didn't immediately take to the idea of crickets as food. As a senior at Brown University with a job offer at a large hedge fund lined up he was, in his own words, "coasting." Skipping class quickly got boring, so the fitness and nutrition buff began experimenting with making his own protein bars. It was Sewitz who suggested crickets. He got the idea from a conference on climate change at MIT and thought they might present a solution to his roommate's quest for the perfect protein.

After a little convincing and a lot of research, Lewis was sold—so the pair ordered 2000 live crickets from one of the dozen or so domestic farms that raise crickets for fishing bait and reptile food. The insects arrived at their on-campus house in something resembling shoeboxes. And although they lost a few especially jumpy crickets in the process, Lewis and Seitz successfully froze, cleaned, roasted, and ground the crickets into a powder. With it, they made their first batch of cricket protein bars.

After receiving positive feedback from fellow students and athletes at a local crossfit gym, the pair decided to look into what their next steps should be. "I started talking to a professor of entrepreneurship about it, drew up a business plan, got more serious, raised a little bit of money from family and friends," Lewis says. And when they graduated in May 2013, they agreed to dedicate their summer to giving the company a real shot—starting with a Kickstarter campaign. They gave their campaign a $20,000 goal. When it raised close to $55,000 in the allotted time, Lewis decided not to join the hedge fund, Seitz scrapped his plan of teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks, and the two dedicated themselves to Exo.

It wasn't immediately smooth sailing. The Kickstarter campaign ended in August and they produced their first commercial batch of 50,000 bars in March. Finding a manufacturer proved particularly tricky because there's a small overlap between shellfish allergies and cricket allergies, and companies were unwilling to contaminate their equipment in that way. "We were using crickets and they spend their whole lives trying to keep crickets out of their facilities," Lewis says.

Eventually, Louis and Seitz secured a manufacturer in upstate New York, partnered with some commercial cricket farms to set up separate all-organic facilities for the human-consumption crickets—although Lewis says that's more about consumer perception than necessity—and joined forces with a world-class chef.

Exo Now

After working as Head Chef of R&D at The Fat Duck and Culinary Director at Chipotle, Kyle Connaughton was designing a new curriculum in food science for the Culinary Institute of America when a friend of a friend introduced him to Lewis and Seitz. They expected to be handed off to one of his students, but Connaughton, who had participated in a BBC documentary about eating insects, liked the idea so much he joined the team.

"We knew that if this was gonna work, these bars had to be delicious—at least as far as protein bars go—and they had to taste better than most protein bars in a category that’s comically overcrowded," Lewis says.

Connaughton helped them to do just that. Though they currently have just two flavors—cacao nut and PB&J (there was a cashew ginger bar, which had ardent fans but was discontinued for not having a widespread enough appeal)—there are plans to develop more; blueberry vanilla and apple cinnamon are already in the works. And so far, people have liked what they've tasted: Exo can barely keep up with the demand. Every production run has sold out, with around 90 percent of those sales occuring online.

Being a "weird" food is good for word-of-mouth business (and media attention), but normalizing eating insects would be even better. Lewis compares his hopes for crickets to the trajectory of lobsters, which were once considered prison food, and sushi.

"Our attitude towards these things change," he says. "Granted, lobster took a hundred years. Sushi was introduced in the ‘60s in LA and now you can find a sushi bar in the Glasgow airport. And now, with people’s focus on nose-to-tail dining and farm-to-table cuisine and, I don’t want to sound old, with social media, these things happens quicker. So it’s feasible that the shift we’ve seen with lobster that took 100 years and sushi that took 30 with crickets could take five to 10."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive
iStock
iStock

Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios