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Fear Factor is going to get real: surviving on Mars means bugs are what’s for dinner

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Sep 21, 2019, 9:43 PM EDT (Updated)

Want to live on Mars? You might want to take a look at the menu first, because it’s kind of like that episode of Fear Factor that had contestants body-slamming bug-splattered windshields and eating as many crushed crickets as they could.

Humans won’t even be leaving bootprints in the dust of the Red Planet for a while, but when we get to the point of blasting off on Elon Musk’s Starship and landing there for an extended stay, bugs are going to be what’s for dinner. At least they’ll be one of the menu items. Kevin Cannon and Daniel T. Britt of the University of Central Florida recently published a study that revealed the slightly unpleasant reality of what we will have to do for protein.

The scientists considered “the more radical goal of producing enough food on Mars to sustain a permanent settlement of private citizens that increases to 1 million people within 100 Earth years … Calorie needs were calculated on a per-person basis, and land use was modeled with a diet that includes staple crops, insect products, and cellular agriculture.”

Wait a second. Insect products. If you’re not too squeamish, his website, Eat Like a Martian, lays out what he calls “The Martian Diet”—and insects are second on the list. You might be surprised to know that while cricket lollipops might be a novelty in the U.S. (and a great Halloween prank), insects and insect products are just like any other source of protein in many places right here on Earth. Cricket flour is versatile enough to be used for baking, pasta, and an alternative form of protein powder.

If there’s a gym on Mars, the stuff in your protein shakes might be made from crickets.

When you’re looking at keeping an entire population alive, you want to provide the maximum amount of protein per capita. Cannon and Britt investigated how to do that in their study. A self-sufficient society can’t rely on food imported from the home planet. Insect farms can feed a population of 1 million on an alien planet because they have a high output of protein and calories using minimal resources.

"Bugs are the way to go, if people can get over the gross factor," Cannon told

Even here in the U.S., companies like Exo Protein and Chirps make energy bars, chips, and cookie mix from crickets. Of course, there are always the standard crunchy crickets you can just pop in your mouth whole. Bugs are a sustainable food source that will just keep future Martians alive. Space plants, like those being grown in NASA experiments, just don’t provide enough fuel on their own. High-protein crickets and other insects could be a real solution to the population explosion on Earth.

So if you’re considering taking that massive leap to Mars, get ready to bug out.