Eat me: Delicious insects will save us all

Insects are a more sustainable protein source than cows or pigs, they're more nutritious, and they're being taken seriously.
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 17, 2010


Roasted snack crickets à la carte

1 bag of live crickets

1. Purchase crickets at pet store.
2. Squeal and shriek as they hop around in the plastic bag on the car ride home.
3. Put the bag in the freezer overnight to kill them.
4. Rinse crickets and lay them on a piece of aluminum foil.
5. Roast at 200 degrees for 20-40 minutes.
6. Remove crickets and wait for them to cool. Remove legs and wings; salt to taste.
7. Close your eyes and put a cricket in your mouth. Crunch down not knowing what to expect. Basically taste nothing but some vague nuttiness, kind of like a pumpkin or sunflower seed.
8. Think about how the cricket that you just put in your mouth is, for you, a novelty food, an experiment, a dare. But remember that, if entomophagists — bug-eaters — are right, it might also be the food source that saves the planet.

— — — — — — — — — — —

Insects are a more sustainable protein source than cows or pigs, they're more nutritious, and they're being taken seriously. The United Nations has thrown its weight behind insect consumption, and more and more people are recognizing that bugs could be a solution to a host of emerging problems, including world hunger and environmental woes.

"[A]s global population continues to rise, and as climate and economics continue to change, the demands of food production and resources we use will have a major effect on how we feed ourselves," wrote Rhode Island professor David Gracer in an academic paper for a 2008 world conference on bug-eating.

Consider this: world meat consumption has almost tripled since 1970, and we've gobbled up about 70 percent of all available agricultural land for livestock. "We don't have land enough, so we need alternatives," says Arnold van Huis, an entomology professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and a leading entomophagist.

Bugs take up significantly less room than vertebrate livestock, while creating less pollution (only termites, cockroaches, and a few beetle species emit the methane that ruminants like cows do). They are "much more efficient," van Huis continues, both in terms of how much feed they consume and how much of the bug can be eaten.

To produce one kilogram of meat, a cricket needs 1.7 kilograms of feed, as opposed to 2.2 kilograms for a chicken, 3.6 kilograms for a pig, and 7.7 kilograms for a cow, according to a van Huis opinion paper, "Bugs Can Solve Food Crisis," published this September in The Scientist. Meanwhile, "the edible proportion after processing is much higher for insects — 80 percent for crickets," as opposed to 70 percent for pork, 65 percent for chicken, and 55 percent for beef.

"It is distinctly possible that the large animal food sources that we have taken for granted . . . will be impractical to produce," Gracer continued. "This will make microlivestock, particularly insects, a desirable choice. . . . It may well be that many people will embrace insect foods only when their usual food choices become problematic. However, we can do more than passively wait for this to happen."

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