As I approach my graduation this year, I decided to take on the challenge of publishing my own research. Simply graduating with only a degree in hand wasn’t satisfying the scientist in me. I felt the need to do some real research!
While I was wrapping up one of my senior writing classes last semester, I was exposed to the topic of entomophagy. What is that, you ask? Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects.
OK, I know that sounds pretty disgusting … but it actually isn’t! In fact my children, husband and I have all consumed bugs (and so have you, believe it or not).
In the western world, we usually only see people eating insects as sort of a gross factor. It’s somewhat of a taboo here in the United States. “Fear Factor” and “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” are a couple shows where you’ll almost always find someone eating insects. But for the rest of the world, this is a fairly common practice, and in most cases, essential for human health and sustainability. Here I will give you five reasons why we should consider eating insects.
1. They are healthy and nutritious (and actually taste good).
Did you know that insects are a great source of not only animal protein but vitamins, micronutrients, healthy fats and fiber? Insects also have high-quality protein similar to that found in other animal meats. For example, crickets contain 21 g of protein per 100 g of meat, while beef contains only slightly more at 26 g per 100 g of meat.
Anyone who eats insects will tell you that they taste great as well. Ants are known to have a sweet taste, while grasshoppers will most likely taste like the spices they are cooked in. Bees taste nutty, and termites taste like carrots.
2. They will save the world.
Insects for food consumption and feed will become important in sustaining our planet. Right now the world’s population is estimated to be about 7 billion people. In 2050 the population is projected to be at or near 9 billion. Nine billion people on this planet! That means the demand for food will be extremely high.
Right now, 70 percent of the land on Earth is used to grow feed for the animals we consume. In 2050 we’re talking about beef becoming a luxury, more rainforests and land being developed to feed the hungry planet, more greenhouse gasses emitted, more pollution, etc.
Here’s where insects can save us. Crickets, for example, require 12 times less food than cattle for the same amount of protein. Cows produce 132 pounds of methane per day (which is as much as a car) while crickets produce 80 percent less. Further, insects are able to reproduce more rapidly, can live and reproduce off of environmental waste such as cow manure, and use substantially less amounts of water and land than cows or pigs. For example, in order to yield 1 kg of beef, you need 10 kg of feed for the animals. For crickets: 1.7 kg is all you need to harvest 1 kg of crickets.
3. They are less likely to carry diseases.
Animals such as cows and pigs are more closely related to us than insects, and therefore are able to transmit diseases from animal to human, like mad cow disease for instance. However there is a possibility that insects may have diseases of their own, and therefore more research is needed in that area.
4. We already eat them!
Did you know that we already, unknowingly, consume insects? The FDA allows a certain number of insect parts per number of grams of food you buy off the shelves. Here are some examples:
- Chocolate: 60 parts per 100 g
- Peanut butter: 30 parts per 100 g
- Cinnamon: 400 parts per 50 g
- Wheat flour: 150 parts per 100 g
And don’t forget natural colorings like carmine and cochineal!
5. They’ve been consumed for centuries and they’re still being consumed.
Whether you like to believe it or not, 80 percent of the world’s population feasts on insects. They’ve been part of indigenous people’s culture for centuries and continue to be popular all over the world. In some areas, insects are a source of income where work is hard to come by. Some insect species are used in medicine. In some parts of the world, insects are essential for nutrition in starving communities, while in other places insects are simply a delicacy that can be found in many restaurants or on a street vendor’s cart. There are 1500 varieties of insects known to be consumed today. And on a planet where there are 40 tons of insects to every human being, odds are there’s a bug for everyone’s taste.
Okay, so maybe you aren’t running out to order batches of fresh mealworms to eat for dinner tonight, but I encourage you to think about it and maybe even do some research of your own.
As a mother I try to encourage all kinds of “outside of the box” thinking. Our children really are our future and what we expose them to now will ultimately shape the way they think as adults. My family and I haven’t dipped into cooking whole insects yet (as much as I would love to), but we do bake and make smoothies with our cricket flour. (Pssst. It doesn’t taste like anything!)
If you’d like to watch some really interesting and short videos on entomophagy and how this practice will help save the world, here are two TED talk videos that I think do a great job of that!
– Joohi Schrader is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.