Would you like flies with that?

Why should we consider eating insects?

Eating insects is not something most of us would like to think about. But new arguments in the food security debate suggest that eating insects is a sure-fire way to solve the problem of a global food shortage, while also providing other environmental benefits.

Firstly, insects can be farmed in a much higher density than conventional livestock. This will be useful as global population increases and the demand for food rises. Also, infectious diseases caught by livestock in high-production operations cost the global community billions every year. This figure would be much lower with ‘mini-livestock’ as each creature costs significantly less to raise.

Another benefit is the feed conversion ratio (FCR). An FCR is a measure of an animal’s efficiency to convert feed mass into increased body mass. This can be used, along with the percentage edible weight (how much of an animal can be eaten), to compare the efficiency of different livestock and mini-livestock. These figures have shown that crickets are twice as efficient as chickens, four times more efficient than pigs and twleve times more efficient than cattle.

In terms of the environmental benefit, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of conventional livestock (including the transport of the livestock and feed) have been found to make up 18% of human-induced GHG emissions. While insects also produce GHG, they account for a much lower percentage of human GHG emissions.

Arnold van Huis: Potential of Insects as Food and Feed in Assuring Food Security, Annual Review of Entomology, 2013


2 billion

The number of people worldwide estimated to supplement their diet with insects.

More than 1900

The number of species that have been documented in literature as edible, most of them in tropical countries.

UN: Edible Insects – Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security, FAO Forestry Paper, 2013

Catching the Entomophagy Bug

Though insects are considered an important part of a healthy diet in many areas of the world, people from the West are still generally disgusted by the idea of entomophagy. But why is this the case? Why did the notion of using insects for food almost completely pass over the western world?

1) Food has huge social and cultural significance, and insects are seen as dirty, compared to pre-packaged supermarket food.

2) Generally insect-eating countries have tropical climates where insects could grow big and ‘meaty’. Harsh European weather means that bugs are most prevalent in summer and we therefore view them as pests, not protein.

Scientific American: What’s stopping us from eating insects?, 2013

It has how much iron?

1. Caterpillar – 35.5mg

2. Dung beetle – 7.7mg

3. Grasshopper – 5mg

4. Minced beef – 3.5mg

Source: Montana State University (BBC News)

Cricket chip, anyone?

Entrepreneurial team ‘Aspire’ from Canada’s McGill Business School have capitalised on the idea that people already eat insects as part of their diet, and are using this to help cut nutritional deficiencies among the poor, as well as spreading the word in the developed world. They scooped the $1 million Hult Prize for social entrepreneurs, which will help cover the costs of developing their ‘micro-livestock kits’ to promote insect farming all year round in slum-dwelling communities. Even Bill Clinton suggested he might make an exeption from his normally strict vegan diet, to sample some of the groups most exotic offerings.

The Telegraph: Insect eating scheme wins $1m Hult Prize, 2013

Entomophagous Countries Around the World

1. Africa – 36 countries

2. The Americas – 23 countries

3. Asia – 29 countries

4. Europe – 11 countries

National Geographic: U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try, 2013

Further reading

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United nations: Forest insects as food: humans bite back

Tickle Your Tastebuds…

Grasshoppers and locusts are the most consumed types of insect.

They have a neutral flavour, so they absorb other flavours very well.

Turning locusts into dinner can be used as a method of control; they cause famines in many countries by destroying crops.

National Geographic: U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try, 2013

Case Study – Sanambele, Malia

For generations, foraging for grasshoppers has been a way of providing food for families in the village of Sanambele. The diet of most of the people in the village consisted of millet, sorghum, maize and, occasionally, peanuts and fish. The grasshopper provided an important source of protein and also meant that more land could be used for commercial crops.

Recently, Malian farmers have begun to use their land for selling cotton as a cash crop, and increasing the use of chemicals to protect the crops from insects and disease. As a result, families have been unable to use the grasshopper as food, for fear of contamination and chemical poisoning.

Looy et al: How then shall we eat? Insect-eating attitudes and sustainable foodways, Agriculture and Human Values, 2013


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