Andreas Späth

Let them eat bugs

2014-06-17 08:53

Andreas Wilson-Späth

Why are prawns a delicacy, while cockroaches are just yuk? To an objective observer they don't really look all that different after all.

For a sustainable food future, more of us might have to get our minds around the idea of entomophagy - the practice of eating insects.

That the answer to world hunger isn't to be found in problems with production, but rather in inequitable and wasteful distribution remains a well-worn truism. But if things like the Western fetish for bacon and meat-heavy fads like the paleo and Banting diets become aspirational goals for more and more people worldwide, we will have a growing problem with producing food without massively depleting natural resources and permanently damaging the environment.

Perhaps the prospect of supplementing our diets with insect protein will become a necessity sooner than some would like. Mopane worms anyone?

Dutch entomologist (insect scientist) Arnold van Huis, for one, believes that "edible insects can provide food security for the world". Of course he acknowledges the fact that a significant change in consumer attitude is necessary, especially in Western countries, where eating insects is still widely considered a rather primitive habit of poor people in more tropical climes.

Here are some of the environmental benefits of eating bugs as opposed to meat:

• Many insects can be turned into healthy and nutritious food that is rich in proteins, fibre, minerals, vitamins and fat.

• Insects are much more efficient at converting feed into edible bodyweight than more conventional livestock animals like cattle and pigs. Crickets, for instance, need only two kilograms of feed for every kilogram of weight gain. In addition, fully 80% of a cricket is edible, compared to only about 40% of a cow.

• Many insects can be fed on human and animal waste products.

• Insects use considerably less land and water to grow than cattle.

• Insects emit fewer greenhouse gasses than pigs and cows.

• Insects like grasshoppers, crickets, flies and mealworms can be harvested in the wild or farmed on a commercial scale.

• Insects can be used to make feed for farmed poultry and fish.

Today, insects are believed to form part of the traditional diet of about two billion people globally and even some of the most decorated gourmet chefs, like René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen and Alex Atala of D.O.M in São Paolo, are starting to feature them on their restaurant menus.

Give it a try yourself with The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, co-authored by van Huis

Designers are developing plans for semi-industrial fly factories and counter top incubators for home kitchens to facilitate the production of black soldier fly larvae, which have been described as smelling like potatoes when cooked and tasting "nutty", "meaty" and "like chicken" when converted into a pâté.

An edible insect farm was recently been launched in Ohio by food start-up Six Foods to grow European house crickets for their cricket cookies and cricket tortilla chips (aka "chirps"), and another US company based in Utah already sells a range of energy bars that have crickets as a main ingredient.

So who knows, perhaps insect-based foods are the next big thing? Personally, I think I’ll choose Meat Free Monday over Mealworm Monday for the foreseeable future...

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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