Q&A: Why Mark Melancon loves eating crickets

Thursday July 6th, 2017

San Francisco Giants reliever Mark Melancon likes to eat crickets. He’s proud to admit it, too.

Melancon considers himself an adventurous eater, but extended his diet even further last month at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago, when the Giants were in town for a series against the Cubs.

He came across Mohammed Ashour, co-founder and CEO of Aketta, a company that sells cricket products.  Aketta frames their flavored, roasted crickets as a high-protein source that has the “taste and smell profile of sunflower seeds and roasted nuts.” They can be plucked out of a bag like chips,…just don’t expect people to think you’re eating chips.

The pitcher’s interest was piqued purely by the unusual nature of the snacks. By the time he finished munching on a handful of Spicy Hot and Sour Cream and Onion, he wanted to bring back samples for his teammates and family. Now he’s even mulling over a diet centered on cricket protein. Melancon took a few minutes to talk with SI on his newfound liking for the cooked critters.

Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Connor Grossman: What about trying crickets interested you?

Mark Melancon: I’ve seen so many different types of food eaten around the world and I know that insects are a huge food source for most of the world. To me, there’s no reason why we don’t do it here. The norm is to eat steak and meat, but really when you think about it, crickets are a very eco-friendly, sustainable protein source. It’s a lot cheaper. It’s much more green in the sense that there’s a lot less water used compared to other meat sources. It all made sense to me that this could be a very long-term, sustainable food source.

C.G.: Did you need to be convinced to try it?

M.M.: I was very curious from the get-go to try it. I’m much more open with trying new things and fortunate enough to be able to travel the world and be exposed to many different things. Just because it’s an insect isn’t going to scare me away.

C.G.: How would you try and explain this to someone who was severely grossed out by the idea of eating bugs?

M.M.: I would tell them if you’re that spooked by it, just don’t look at it. Don’t focus on the visual. When you taste it, understand that it’s going to be crunchy and flavored like whatever flavor you’re trying. Don’t overanalyze it when it’s in your mouth or even before you try it … If you didn’t know it was a cricket, you’d have no idea. You’d think you were eating just a regular snack.

Courtesy of Aketta

C.G.: How often are you consuming some product with cricket in it?

M.M.: I can’t say that I’m crushing it every day because my kids have already done that.

I got about six small pouches  and I think four of them were eaten by my kids.

C.G.: So how did you approach this with your kids (5-year-old Brooklyn, 3-year-old Jack and 1-year-old Ella)?

M.M.: I didn’t explain it to them. My 5- and 3-year-old of course just took it from me. They loved it. They honestly came back to me time and time again wanting more.  Mohammed told me that the younger generation is going to grow up with this and not even care that it’s a cricket or an insect. He was right. My kids had no qualms with it.

C.G.: Have you told any of your teammates about this? Hunter Pence seems like someone who might be interested in getting in on this.

M.M.: I did approach some of my teammates just to see what their reactions would be. Hunter Pence was one of the first guys that I had try it, and surprisingly he was more skittish than expected. He gave in and tried it and admitted that it tasted good. I had four or five teammates say that it was perfectly fine and that they’d eat it. Then there were four or five guys that just wanted to joke with me and say that I’m a little too out there.

Derek Law liked it and had no problems. Matt Moore liked it too. Hunter Strickland didn’t want to eat it, just for the simple fact that it was a cricket … Nick Hundley enjoyed them and made a joke where he put one between his teeth as he was going around the clubhouse. He had no problem eating a handful.

Most of the guys were up for trying it and enjoyed it. They were pleasantly surprised with how unaffected they were. They thought if they got over the visual, the taste was good.

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C.G.: Do you think there’s a viable market for eating insects? Will people start to integrate it into their diet over time?

M.M.: I do think this will be a part of athletes’ protein and a way to get that low-calorie, high-protein diet utilized in baseball or any other sport. I think it’s going to be something going forward.

C.G.: I’m not aware of any professional athletes that would openly admit to consistently consuming crickets as a source of protein. Would you want to be considered a pioneer among athletes in making this a more common practice?

M.M.: Most definitely. That’s something that I’ve talked to the Giants team dietician about. I don’t know if I could do cricket protein as my only source of protein, but it’s what we’re talking about and what she’s looking into for me. We’re experimenting with that and trying to transform my diet in that way.

If I’m able to get cricket protein into enough food sources and make sure I’m building muscle and not limiting my training, then I’d be happy to do that and I’d love to be a pioneer for cricket protein.

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C.G.: When is the soonest you would try a cricket protein diet?

M.M.: I think it’d have to be in the offseason. Experimenting isn’t something I want to do during the season. But as soon as the off-season begins, we’ll have a plan going. It’d be kinda fun. I think it’s going to be a great thing.

I have high hopes that it’ll be something that will take off and a lot more athletes and people in general are going to start doing it. The nutrition part of it is so good.

C.G.: Any other things you’ve tried that most people would find pretty off-putting?

M.M.: Well I know the worst thing I ever tried is stinky tofu. If you’re within five miles of stinky tofu you know you’re around it. It smells so bad. I’ve tried anything from sea urchins to snake blood. Snake blood was terrible. You have to take a shot of it and it’s mixed with some type of alcohol. Not something that I ever want to try again.

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