As it turns out, insects could be a possible solution to the global food crisis. To the Western culture, this is news, while ethnic groups in Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America have been eating bugs for a very long time now.
Eating insects? How many of us shudder at the thought of one crawling on our skin, let alone ingesting them?
The practice of eating insects is widely known as entomophagy, and it might bring the end of food shortages. The world population is expected to jump to 9 billion by the year 2050. At the moment, we are exploiting every nutritious outlet we have, and yet there are still one billion people in the world who are chronically hungry. If this is the situation now, then what are we going to do in the future?
1,900 insect species in the world qualify as potential food sources. The most common ones are crickets, mealworms, ants, grasshoppers, cicadas, caterpillars and different beetles. Some specialties include scorpions and tarantulas.
Before you start convulsing, keep in mind that insects are extremely nutritious. Most of these edible species, like termites and grasshoppers, are rich in protein, although beetles contain more fat than protein. Some of these little critters reach up to 80% protein of their total weight.
What’s more, insects contain a good amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, iron, and calcium.
Insects vs. Livestock
About 70% of agricultural land is used to raise livestock. If insects were to replace part of the animal in our eating habits, then they would significantly reduce this percentage. Insects are much smaller, and 80% of their body is edible, while livestock is evidently larger in size and there are a lot of parts from these animals that are thrown out as waste.
Because of their smaller size, insects consume much less food and water. They are so much more efficient at converting food into edible tissue than any other animal we consider livestock. Another advantage is that they can consume animal or plant waste that humans don’t eat, so they don’t compete with our food supply. Less energy and financial resources go into maintaining them, because of their conveniently small size, short life span and quick reproduction.
This means that we would have a larger amount of food available to us since there won’t be such a huge portion fed to the livestock.
Problems such as land use, pollution of air, water and soil, mass deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions are closely tied to the ever-increasing growth of agriculture. Insects provide an excellent alternative to livestock, without that enormous footprint on our environment.
Mass consumption of insects could have a very positive effect on the economy, since it would open new jobs that don’t necessarily require experience, especially in poverty stricken areas. If this industry were to develop into something bigger, it could help bridge the gap between famine and food waste.
The ‘Ick’ Factor
Many people are already prejudiced about insects because they have spent too much time trying to keep them off their plates. Now it’s time to overcome the ‘ick’ factor and consider integrating bugs in our regular meal plans.
The most common reason why people are quick to judge is the appearance of the insects. What they don’t understand is that before the insect reaches their plate, it is cleaned, roasted, sometimes even powderized — same as any other meat we usually consume: chicken, beef or pork.
There are many insect-based food and drinks articles: cricket flour, chocolate covered grasshopper, gin tonic with ants, caterpillar sushi… All of these are said to taste just like regular food and have often been compared to different kinds of mainstream meat – chicken, different types of fish, etc… Nothing icky here!
Another concern that arises is the cleanliness and safety of the insects. More often than not, insects for protein purposes are bred on farms, where they have no toxins or pollutants and where their feed is closely controlled. Sometimes they are fed specific foods (apple, cinnamon), to make them taste different. The chances of abnormal proteins that cause diseases appearing in insects are equal or lower than in other livestock.
This type of ‘mini-livestock’ shows great potential. It proves to be quite sustainable and promising towards achieving food security. The only obstacle in our way is our own view of the insects as foul and appalling, which is easy to think when pizza is available 24/7. Despite this, it’s good to keep in mind that someday, they might be our last resort!
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