The idea of eating insects can seem a bit unappealing if you’ve been brought up with a Western diet. We do eat them for novelty (1) or inadvertently as food colouring (2). However, insect-eating (known as entomophagy, 3) is common to many cultures across the world. Humans have been eating insects from prehistoric times to the present day. If we in the West could just get over our knee-jerk aversion to eating insects, we could benefit greatly by introducing some crickets into our diet. Indeed, in terms of sustainability, it may be necessary.
Choosing crickets instead of beef
A report published by the UK government’s waste agency concluded that insects should become a staple part of everyone’s diet (4). This is because eating crickets is much more environmentally friendly than eating beef.
Authors said that providing the UK’s population with a nutritional and sustainable protein supply will be one of the biggest challenges in the coming decades. But it is not just a UK-specific problem, since meat is a staple part of most diets around the world. With the global population set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 (5), that will be a lot more people eating meat. Land and water resources are strained enough as it is from global meat production (6).
Essentially, we need to look for more sustainable alternatives. And insects may be one of the most sustainable sources of protein out there. All we have to do is get over that ‘yuck factor’.
Insects are extremely healthy. They have a high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content that is comparable to fish and livestock. For example, house crickets contain on average 205g/kg protein, while beef contains 256g/kg protein. Some insects even contain 80% protein by weight (7).
Image credit: Wikipedia
One reason why insects are more environmentally friendly than meat is because they are cold blooded, and so require less energy to maintain their internal body temperature. They are very efficient at converting feed into body mass, unlike cattle. Meat is hugely inefficient (8). It accounts for 17% of global caloric intake, but uses twice that amount of water, land and feed.
Insects require significantly less land and water than livestock, and reproduce much more quickly (9). They can also be farmed in large quantities in small areas. For those concerned about animal welfare, this may also be a plus. There is little evidence that insects feel pain (10). And while ethical issues may still surround their use for human consumption, it is clear that factory farming insects will result in little to no suffering, when compared to factory farming meat.
It’s also worth highlighting that insects produce a fraction of greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as methane and ammonia, when compared to cattle (11). Another bonus feature of insects is that they can consume animal waste or plants that people cannot (12). In this way, they won’t compete with the human food supply (like livestock do), and they could also help cut down on environmental contamination.
What about the taste?
As mentioned previously, insects are eaten all over the world. And chefs have been getting creative and finding ways to make them tasty (13). In Mexico, there is a range of insects to choose from (14). The most popular are chapulines (grasshoppers). They’re nearly always doused in a mild chilli powder and lime juice. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the people love to eat deep-fried locusts (15).
Sustainable living on Earth and Mars
The colonists on Mars may be eating silkworms (16). At least, the Chinese are considering this as a potential Martian food source (17). This is because they could simultaneously fertilize plants and feed astronauts. In addition, silkworm pupae contain twice the amount of essential amino acids compared to pork. And four times that of egg and milk.
If we want to live on Earth and Mars in a sustainable way, we can only do so by looking at the evidence, and recognising which food sources don’t strain the planet’s resources, and which ones do. Insects, lab-grown meat and plant-based ‘meats’ all look like reliable and sustainable sources of protein so far. Traditionally raised cattle, on the other hand, is an enemy of sustainability.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
I’m currently a Writer at The Canary, covering issues relating to the food industry, drugs, health, well-being and nutrition. I’m also a Blogger for Inspiring Interns, where I offer careers advice for graduates. If you have a story you want me to cover, drop me a message on Twitter (@samwoolfe). You can also check out my travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com) and personal blog (www.samwoolfe.com) to read my articles on philosophy, psychology, and more opinion-related content.
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