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We'll all eat crickets in 20 years, says Cisco's Chambers

The outgoing Cisco executive says clean, cheap insects will be our top protein source.

Hungry? Better get used to eating bugs, the outgoing leader of tech giant Cisco says.

"The primary source of protein you will be having within your life, definitely within 20 years and maybe within 15, will be insects," said John Chambers, speaking at Half Moon Bay at the Techonomy conference. They're "the cleanest form you can produce at least challenge to the environment."

In particular, he thinks eating crickets is the cat's pajamas. That view aligns well with companies like Aspire Food Group, which grows crickets for human consumption, and many cultures in Asia, Africa and Latin America. So perhaps you'd better embrace an insectivorous diet.

Former Cisco chief Jon Chambers, speaking at Techonomy, predicts insects will be our main protein source.

Former Cisco chief Jon Chambers, speaking at Techonomy, predicts insects will be our main protein source.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Chambers was for years chief executive of networking giant Cisco Systems, but now he's severing his last tie as the company's board chairman. So what makes him such an expert in food technology? In short, he plans to get more active with startups, and he's paying close attention to what's going on.

Growing crickets is a high-tech operation, he says, with robots able to help crickets grow 50 percent bigger in a third the time as usual, he said.

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Chambers likes the prospects of Aspire Food Group, based in Austin, Texas, and says cricket food is ready now. He's also an investor in the food company and mentor to CEO Mohammed Ashour, a spokesman for Aspire confirmed. 

You won't necessarily know you're eating leggy little arthropods, though, since they can be ground up and added into other foods. He just had a seven-course dinner at a San Francisco restaurant, Saison, with crickets infused into biscuits, desserts and even a margarita.

Chambers likes startups, but he's worried about them in the United States. France and China are doing a better job encouraging them and ensuring they're not isolated to urban coastal pockets.

Aspire grows its crickets in bins. Automated robots handle the feeding.

Aspire grows its crickets in bins. Automated robots handle the feeding.

Dos Mundos Creative

"We've become the worst," Chambers said.

And startup hotbed Silicon Valley is too complacent, he added.

"When a region is out of touch with technology or business or social changes, you're at risk," Chambers said. "Boston's Route 128 used to be the high-tech center of the world," near MIT and Harvard and home to 2,000 or 3,000 high-tech companies. But the area missed the move to personal computers, software and the internet and lost its position of influence.

"Silicon Valley has the risk we could miss major market transitions," Chambers said.

Update, 1:55 p.m. PT: Adds more background on Chambers and Aspire.

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