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May 16, 2013

Why eat insects?


It’s not as outlandish as it might seem.

According to a new report by the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), insects already form part of the traditional diet of more than 2 billion people around the world.

The most-eaten insects globally are beetles (31%); caterpillars (18%); bees, wasps and ants (14%); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13%). Many insects are protein-rich, provide good fats, and are high in calcium, iron and zinc.

Geographically, insects are eaten the most in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Western countries, not so much. The report addresses the question of why insects aren’t popular in the First World; one reason: early, successful and widespread domestication of plants and animals.

According to the report, “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” three main reasons exist for entomophagy (the practice of eating insects): health, environmental factors, economic/social factors.

Health:
  • Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish (from ocean catch).
  • Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc.
  • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets. 

Environmental:

  • Insects promoted as food emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock (methane, for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches).
  • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require the clearing of land to expand production. Feed is the major requirement for land.
  • The ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, such as pigs.
  • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
  • Insects can be fed on organic waste streams. 

Economic/Social Factors:

  • Insect harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society, such as women and the landless.
  • Mini-livestock offer livelihood opportunities for both urban and rural people. Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment. 
To learn more, download the 201-page report. It’s a fascinating document, rich with historic, cultural, and sociological information as well as detailed information about popular edible insects.

No recipes, though. Maybe I should get busy compiling a few for a cookbook. But to do that I'd have to become a entomophagist, which seems unlikely (I still haven't stopped talking about eating fruit bat soup in Palau a few years ago). I"m always open to adventure, but bugs? That just might be too large a cultural shift.

If you're open, though, consider purchasinng The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Revised: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin.



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