Eat More Insects, Says United Nations


Credit: Takoradee/wikimedia

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has released a report that says that eating insects could help boost nutrition, alleviate world hunger, and reduce pollution.

Although insects are high in protein and include useful minerals there is some hesitancy towards eating insects in much of the West, where the "ick" factor remains a powerful force against the introduction of insects into mainstream cuisine.

For those readers on the East Coast Buzzfeed has (of course) provided a list of meals that call for cicadas, which are due to erupt in their billions this summer. 

I have never eaten an insect (apart from that one ant as a toddler and the occasional suicidal bug that decides to fly into my mouth), but it seems to me that there are some good nutritional and environmental reasons why it would be a good thing if we ate more insects. Plus, a growing insect farming sector could benefit our economy.

Greg Beato pointed out in an article for the August/September 2012 issue of Reason that we already have insect farms that cater to some pet owners:

Today's insect farms primarily serve the pet food and bait markets. In the U.S., they produce enough food to keep approximately 13.6 million pet frogs, toads, and lizards satisfied, but humans tend to have bigger appetites, and there are a lot more of us. In the future, we will not only need far more insect farms; we will need bigger, more productive farms as well. 

Regulation of the industry is likely to get more stringent when people replace tarantulas as the target consumer. As insects inch their way toward the food pyramid, disease management capabilities will need to improve. (In the last few years, for example, cricket paralysis densovirus, which is harmless to humans and other creatures but fatal to Acheta domesticus, the common brown house cricket, has wreaked havoc on the commercial cricket industry in the U.S.)  

There will also be a great demand for processing—increasing shelf life, ensuring product safety and consistency, and, most of all, making mealworms and crickets look and feel and taste a little less like mealworms and crickets. While many people may never eat insects even after they've been beheaded, declawed, and dewinged, they might eat insect flour or sports bars fortified with insect protein.

Credit: Katherine Mangu-Ward

I have it on good authority from my colleague Katherine Mangu-Ward that grasshoppers (pictured to the right) are "crunchy, salty, and delicious." However, while grasshoppers and other insects might be delicious and emit less ammonia that livestock I suspect it will be a while before the American public embraces insects into their cuisine in enough quantity to significantly change our levels of pollution.