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In the Future, We Will All Eat Bugs

As long as regulators don't erect pointless hurdles along the way, a future filled with more tasty, crittery culinary choices seems happily inevitable.

Here in the U.S., we tend not to think of insects as food, and we're horrified when they show up in our food.

But in other parts of the world, people eat bugs on purpose. The United Nations calls insects "a highly significant food source for human populations." The website edibleinsects.com claims people in 80 percent of all countries—amounting to one of every three humans—eat bugs. The things Americans want to keep out of our food are actually a great source of protein, fat, and fiber.

In some places, the law effectively prevents people from thinking of grubs as grub. A fascinating piece in Food Navigator by Massimo Reverberi, founder of a Thailand-based bug-pasta company, suggests there is a regulatory divide between the English-speaking world, which he says has been fairly welcoming of edible insects, and European Union countries, which "have felt the need to have rules and provide approvals before allowing any marketing."

Though finding a bug in one's meal is often cause for alarm and disgust, the laws around U.S. food standards recognize that insects making their way into what we eat is simply a fact of life. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations known as the "Food Defect Action Levels" allow certain enumerated amounts and types of insects to be present in many foods. FDA rules specify that frozen orange juice, for example, is acceptable for sale if it contains fewer than "5 or more [fruit fly] and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml." (The rules also discuss the maximum number of rodent hairs various foods may contain.)

Reverberi writes that regulators have been surprisingly good about establishing permissive regulations for edible-insect foods in this country. Case in point: "The Enterra Feed Corporation, based in British Columbia, was approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials to sell insect-based [animal] feed in the United States," the Pacific Standard reported in March.

While rules in the United States aren't unkind to those who would market bugs as chow, Americans have been slow to adopt the trend of eating creepy crawlers. In the early 1990s, while a college student in Washington, D.C., I was a regular at the Insect Club, which, as the name suggests, was insect-themed not only in its décor but also in its bar snacks. I thought the bug trend might take off back then. It didn't. But that is now changing.

Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, began offering toasted chili-lime grasshoppers last year. I tried them during an early-spring game in 2017 and found them to be a damn tasty beer snack. In fact, they've proved so popular that Poquito's, the local Mexican restaurant offering them up, was forced to cap sales.

Crickets also seem to be gaining popularity. "Crickets are the gateway bug," entrepreneur Jarrod Goldin—whose company, Entomo Farms, mixes bug protein with flour—told Fortune in 2016.

San Francisco–based Don Bugito started out as a bug-centric food truck specializing in pre-Hispanic American specialties. It now sells a variety of insect-based foods, including chocolate-covered bugs and cricket-flour granola.

Meanwhile, a food truck in Belgium has capitalized on the "roach coach" insult by selling skewered bugs, dubbed "crickets on a stick." "They aren't really crickets, they're grasshoppers," explains owner Bart Smit, "but it sounds better to say 'cricket on a stick."

Bug sales look set to skyrocket. "Market research predicts farmed insect production will rise 102 percent between now and 2022," James McWilliams explained in that Pacific Standard piece.

As long as regulators at home and abroad don't erect pointless hurdles along the way, a future filled with more tasty, crittery culinary choices seems happily inevitable.

Photo Credit: Good_Studio/iStock

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  • piperTom||

    It's actually very easy to get most Americans to eat bugs. You just need to have the right recipe: Step 1: feed the bugs to your chickens; step 2: pick one of the hundreds of good recipes for chicken.

  • Rhywun||

    ^This. Bugs are for people who can't afford anything better.

  • MichaelL||

    Crustaceans are related to other animals with exoskeletons. I eat them as often as I can get them! They are ocean bugs!

  • Devastator||

    They are basically just big bugs.

  • Paul B||

    "fewer than 5 or more ... or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml"... or more? So it's unlimited then?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    My philosophy has always been "If it tastes good, eat it". I amended that around 13 to include "If it messes with my head, ingest it". That philosophy has made me the man I am today.

  • Ship of Theseus||

    Dumb, incorrect headline. I will never eat bugs (intentionally).

  • Devastator||

    You eat bugs all the time if you eat food. You're eating them right now, they're everywhere, just a lot of them are too small to see. They're on every square inch of your body as well.

  • Eman||

    Why wasn't I contacted for this story? I'm an expert in erecting pointless things.

  • Citizen X||

    Poor Mrs. Eman.

  • Azathoth!!||

    At least twice a year the 'we're gonna be eating bugs' article comes out.

    It doesn't look Malthusian, but it is. With a touch that pesky 'noble savage'.

    Just another example of how leftist claptrap unobtrusively seeps in.

  • Citizen X||

    That is certainly an interpretation, i guess.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Probably funded by George Soros and The Deep State, too!

  • gormadoc||

    Those leftists and their bug-eating agenda!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    It's a UN plot!!! Baylen has been coopted! Agenda 21!!! ARRGHHH!!!!

  • Megasena||

    Ohhh man... no, thanks!

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Oh for crying out loud. Stupid Americans are always stuffing their fat faces with lobster and crab. And doing it on purpose. And claiming it's some sort of delicacy.

  • Citizen X||

    Fear Factor has been running on and off since 2001.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Quite right. Lobster, crab, shrimp. They're basically just undersea bugs. Lobster in particular occupy the same ecological niche as cockroaches, except that they do it under a lot of water.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Fun factoid: Male lobsters establish dominance by pissing into each others' faces.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Jeez, it practically feels like cannibalism to eat one now.

  • Devastator||

    So same as college fraternities?

  • Ska||

    The elusive land prawn, forest lobster... all sorts of opportunities.

  • albo||

    We did not fight out way to the top of the food chain to eat what a frog also eats.

  • Devastator||

    If you've eaten crab, crawfish, or shrimp you have basically just eaten ocean bugs.

  • DamnDirtyApe||

    I've eaten crickets. The only thing I didn't like was the little legs stuck in my teeth...

  • lap83||

    Same. I'm not adverse to bugs, per se. Not something like roaches. But crickets conjure images of meadows. They are basically tiny cows

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Imagine if cows could jump like crickets...

    That would be too cool for this stupid world.

  • gormadoc||

    Bison can apparently jump 6 feet high; I wouldn't be surprised if cows can do similarly.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    To match the scale, they'd have to be able to get 20 feet up and 100 feet distance.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Nah, aside from air resistance, almost everything with legs can jump about the same maximum height. Stored energy in muscle per bodyweight gives you a maximum height independent of the size of the critter.

  • gormadoc||

    And that's why scale is a trap when talking about animals. Clearly the best jumper in the world is whatever bacterium got caught on a wading birds leg and then was torn off by the wind in the atmosphere. The best runner is an astronaut in the ISS.

  • Devastator||

    So my chihuahua can jump as high as my cat? No it can't. 70% of facts are made up on the spot.

  • Devastator||

    No they can't. They don't have the leg strength.

  • gormadoc||

    Bison can apparently jump 6 feet high; I wouldn't be surprised if cows can do similarly.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Umm, no.

  • TGGeko||

    "But in other parts of the world, people eat bugs on purpose"

    Yea, cuz they're poor. Fuck that.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Because other people do it" is a rather weak argument, as any mother can confirm.

  • Eidde||

    Alternatively: It's a powerful argument, as indicated by all the counterprogramming mothers have to do to counteract it.

  • vek||

    I actually took a bite of a frozen food Chinese meal I bought a few weeks back, and I bit into the immediately recognizable crunch of some kind of nasty ass bug. There was like half of a SOMETHING in that meal (had wings, head looked weird. I have no clue), and it tasted gross when I bit into it. The crunch was weird, but also the flavor was disgusting. UGH. No thanks.

    I dunno about anywhere else, but I bet half the reason they have those in Seattle is because we have so damn many Asian immigrants! Many of them ate bugs back home, so it should be no surprise they would when they move here too.

    I would eat the hell out of bugs in a survival situation... But I will definitely not go out of my way to try them. IF I had some presented to me randomly somewhere I might consider trying a single bite just to have a horror story to tell. There's just something unappealing about the whole thing. Humans have a natural gross out/aversion to bugs because of evolution and many of them being poisonous. I see no reason to not just roll with that and avoid them.

    That said I might not be entirely against them being ground up and put into processed foods in hidden ways to bulk up the nutritional value. I just don't really want to SEE them when I'm eating them.

  • Citizen X||

    Shrimp are just bugs that live in the ocean. Also, if you don't completely devein them, you're eating their poop too.

  • lap83||

    Well any animal should be cleaned before eating.
    If it's a tasty bug that isn't bad for me, I'll try it

  • Devastator||

    Maggots can be raised to be far more clean than your average human. I'm still not going to eat maggots.

  • Rhywun||

    Shrimp are just bugs that live in the ocean.

    Which is one reason I don't eat them. (Another one being I think they taste disgusting.)

    Same with lobster.

  • vek||

    Pretty much. I'm not trying to be logically consistent here, just saying what I'm down for!

    I admitted I'd eat bugs ground up in my processed food. A lot of the reason I don't like the idea is they just SEEM gross because humans tend to naturally dislike bugs as an evolutionary adaption to protect ourselves. We don't get grossed out when we see a fluffy bunny, but a spider does. That's how our brains are wired. If it's out of sight, out of mind, I'm more okay with it.

    That said, I'm not a huge fan of sea food in general. I eat salmon, shrimp etc, but I still prefer my land animals!

  • Devastator||

    No we don't. Bugs are eaten in lots of countries as delicacies. Don't let your Western upbringing change your view on reality. It's a simple fact that the 3% of the world's population in the USA do not eat a typical diet compared to the other 97% of the world, but mcdonald's is working on that.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    YOU TAKE THAT BACK

  • gormadoc||

    This article: "Here in the U.S., we tend not to think of insects as food, and we're horrified when they show up in our food."
    "Though finding a bug in one's meal is often cause for alarm and disgust, the laws around U.S. food standards recognize that insects making their way into what we eat is simply a fact of life. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations known as the "Food Defect Action Levels" allow certain enumerated amounts and types of insects to be present in many foods."

    Your article from March: "Here in the U.S., we tend not think of insects as food, and are horrified when they turn up in food."
    "Though finding a bug in one's meal is often cause for alarm and disgust, the laws around U.S. food standards recognize that bugs making their way into what we eat is simply a fact of life.

    FDA regulations known as the "Food Defect Action Levels" allow certain enumerated amounts and types of insects to be present in many foods."

    It's like you were cheating on a paper and tried to think of ways to make it your own, but the original was already your paper.

  • ||

    The things Americans want to keep out of our food are actually a great source of protein, fat, and fiber.

    No. They aren't the worst source of protein, fat, and fiber, but seed crops and chickens as well as grass and cows will produce far better sources of protein, fat, and fiber than insects by pretty much any metric.

  • gormadoc||

    With regards to efficiency I think that (mostly herbivorous) insects take the cake.

  • ||

    With regards to efficiency I think that (mostly herbivorous) insects take the cake.

    Flat wrong. They don't digest long enough nor provide a sufficiently stable digestive process to extract the majority of nutrients and energy from any given crop and even when they do provide it they convert an overwhelming portion mass-wise (and they're already on the wrong side of this equation size-wise) to compounds that are nutritionally void and worthless even after extensive cooking/preparation. And this doesn't even begin to assume the losses you'd incur from farming conditions that larger, warm-blooded animals tolerate regularly. Even if you selectively slant things in favor of insect by choosing larger, meatier ones, their maturation times and ultimate nutritional value don't compete with eggs and milk, even from poorer-producing mammals. About the only way they win is in a land-use framework as, especially with grubs, you can still otherwise use the land above them.

    Not that this brutal efficiency is required in our modern diet, but insects by just about any metric aren't great sources of protein, fat, and fiber. If bugs were better, locust plagues wouldn't be (or have been) a problem as you'd just eat the roaming swarms of bugs instead. See American Bison, Passenger Pigeon.

  • gormadoc||

    Looking it up, unmodified chickens have a feed conversion of 1.6, which is on par with commonly farmed insects (slightly higher than crickets at ~1) and higher than insects intended for farming currently being researched. Good cows are around 5 and good pigs are around 3. Lower numbers are better, for others reading. Fish are around chickens.

    Modified chickens are great at feed conversion but aren't a great comparison to as-of-yet unmodified insects. Insects are pretty good from an efficiency POV.

    Locust plagues were a problem because they ate the crops and the harvest, meaning that people didn't have food for the future or for their herbivorous animals. The locusts themselves were also dangerous. People did actually eat locusts during swarms and still do when they occur. It was recently a question in Israel if specific locusts were kosher or not because people wanted to eat them. Besides, we're not comparing insects to plants; it's a fool's errand to compare anything to the overall efficiency of plants.

  • gormadoc||

    Here's an example of people catching swarming locusts for food: http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/6165

    The squirrels are mighty angry with me today.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The gross conversion rate for insects looks good, but there's this little problem that humans can't digest chitin. So a good deal of that conversion is to nutritionally unusable materials. Though I'll grant that chitin is useful as dietary fiber.

    I'd always assumed that locusts had to be kosher, or else what was John doing eating them in the desert?

  • gormadoc||

    The ratios are for dietary protein.

    It's only specific locusts that are kosher, according to rabbinical law. However, we don't know what those locusts are so observant Jews aren't supposed to eat any.

  • gormadoc||

    I should mention that the best performing insects don't have much chitin as they are usually in the larval stage, contributing to their nutritional value. Gross as hell but efficient.

  • ||

    The gross conversion rate for insects looks good, but there's this little problem that humans can't digest chitin. So a good deal of that conversion is to nutritionally unusable materials. Though I'll grant that chitin is useful as dietary fiber.

    It looks good because it's a misrepresentation bordering on lie. Not only is FCR a terrible overall metric of 'better'. He's cribbing his numbers from distinctly pro-insect and anti-industrial agriculture organizations. He's saying ~1 because there are studies out there, published and advanced by organizations the FAO where they report the FCR of house crickets at 0.9. Feed them 0.95kg of food get 1.05kg of crickets out. Studies where they report the 'estimated' biological availability of insect mass at more than 80% and then cite studies where feeding the same insects to chickens results in a biological availability of less than 40% (going into the chicken).

  • ||

    Chitin is a great source of fiber unless you can grow just about any plant life. Then, with or without the FCR data, they're the better source of fiber, with or without the FCR data. Grow all the grain you like, with or without the FCR data, you're never going to get the amino acids you'd get from feeding those grains to chickens, pigs, or cows. The only way FCR matters critically in the determination of better is if you have some manner of unrealistic logistics problem and you need to convert one set of raw materials to another as efficiently as possible by using only a single converter. Insects certainly have their place in a production chain and certainly can contribute to optimizing it. But the notion that they're the best or should be some manner of cornerstone is Luddism on par with the rest of the organic food and anti-CO2 movement.

  • gormadoc||

    Looking it up, unmodified chickens have a feed conversion of 1.6, which is on par with commonly farmed insects (slightly higher than crickets at ~1) and higher than insects intended for farming currently being researched. Good cows are around 5 and good pigs are around 3. Lower numbers are better, for others reading. Fish are around chickens.

    Modified chickens are great at feed conversion but aren't a great comparison to as-of-yet unmodified insects. Insects are pretty good from an efficiency POV.

    Locust plagues were a problem because they ate the crops and the harvest, meaning that people didn't have food for the future or for their herbivorous animals. The locusts themselves were also dangerous. People did actually eat locusts during swarms and still do when they occur. It was recently a question in Israel if specific locusts were kosher or not because people wanted to eat them. Besides, we're not comparing insects to plants; it's a fool's errand to compare anything to the overall efficiency of plants.

  • ||

    The idea that insects are, somehow, a better source of fiber than the plants they eat should be obviously ill-informed. Similarly for (vegetable) oils. The idea that insects are better sources of protein than the plants they eat has *some* validity, but pretty much anyplace you could grow enough plants reliably to harvest insects reliably affords you the ability to raise mammals which are better able to extract nutrients from the plants and provide more biologically usable products with those nutrients. To the point where you can farm crops and mammals in a sustained manner in places where insects could never support larger mammals.

  • gormadoc||

    I don't think we're talking about insects vs. plants for their nutritional value. Of course eating the beginning of the food chain is going to be the best for most of our nutritional needs.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    A seldom considered point about eating low on the food chain is this: If you're eating high up the food chain, and a famine comes, you can compensate by moving down the food chain: Eat the grain instead of feeding it to your cattle.

    But if you're already at the bottom of the food chain, and famine arrives... Well, you can't eat dirt and sunlight, you're out of luck.

    So if you move down the food chain it's important to stockpile large amounts of food to get past any famines that happen.

  • gormadoc||

    Yes, in no way should we not keep a diversified diet. Besides nutritional needs there are practical concerns (though they matter less in an era of globalized trade).

  • ||

    Yes, in no way should we not keep a diversified diet.

    Sure, but a diversified diet isn't or shouldn't be the explicit goal. If the top of the food chain provides optimal nutrition needs at a given low level of efficiency and the bottom provides optimal nutrition needs at a given high level of efficiency and you can already move between the two ends near effortlessly, then the idea that we can change things around is arbitrary (and wrong given other constraints) and the notion that we should change things is needlessly controlling. At the very least, plucking from the middle of the chain and declaring it 'better' is between wrong and not right.

  • ||

    I don't think we're talking about insects vs. plants for their nutritional value.

    The criteria provided were 'better' and 'sources of protein, fat, and fiber'. Plants are king by a whole host of metrics until you start looking at the human mouth and digestive system. At which point, it becomes obvious that we've been at the top of the food chain for quite a while and that the natural food products surrounding the gestation of offspring are second to none. The only reason you'd hang out in the middle somewhere is because you happened to like that particular food source or got trapped by logistics. Neither of which constitutes a solid definition of 'better'.

  • Devastator||

    fiber in cows? you might be doing it wrong...

  • creech||

    Your average Confederate soldier's reaction to weevils in the hardtack was "Yum, meat!"

  • Devastator||

    When you're skin and bones, anything that is edible will taste good.

  • Eidde||

  • gormadoc||

    The sources they rely on for John the Baptist being vegetarian come from arguments against a small Gnostic sect, who apparently believed he was. This sect was essentially Messianic Jews and rejected a litany of claims that ended up defining Christianity (Jesus' divinity and virgin birth being rather important). They also held that Christians still had to follow Jewish law, which explains why they would want to claim that John did not eat locusts (most of which are not kosher).

    So, not mainstream.

  • Eidde||

    I'm inclined to believe the orthodox honey and locusts interpretation.

  • gormadoc||

    It's odd that the site clearly refers to the fact that the Gospels weren't written by one person each at one time but then also pretends that they can be taken holistically and at face value.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Which locusts are kosher?

    Asking for a friend...

  • Echospinner||

    Some are. Found this.

    The Talmud states in Hullin 59a: "Any kind of grasshopper that has four walking legs, four wings, two jumping legs and whose wings cover the greater part of its body is kosher."

  • Devastator||

    It doesn't matter what he ate. Anyone that believes in sky wizards should have little influence in a society that relies on reason rather than hocus pocus to explain reality.

  • Agammamon||

    This again.

    With meat becoming ever cheaper, agricultural land being returned to wilderness - why are people going to 'choose' bugs?

  • Eidde||

    They're preparing a yuge marketing campaign. It'll be awesome. Soon everyone who's anyone will be chowing down on honey-dipped locusts. Crunchy and delicious!

  • Eidde||

    "You got your locust in my honey!"

    "You got your honey in my locust!"

  • Eidde||

    Alternate ad slogan: "Locusts at low cost!"

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    This just makes me think of honey locusts, which are completely different.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I'm not absolutely certain, but I seem to remember reading that honey locust pods are edible, but not the seeds themselves.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Personally, I'm fond of Moriga, but it doesn't winter over well here. OTOH, it's so fast growing that might not matter, I'd better make a note to get some more seed to start this fall for next year's planting. Last year's didn't make it through the winter.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    We all eat bugs already.

    Ever checked the CFR thresholds for insect contamination?

  • georgeliberte||

    Everybody hates me, nobody likes me, I'm going to go eat worms. Childhood song lyrics.

  • shortviking||

    No.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    In the batshit crazy and more-unintentionally-than-intentionally-funny movie Snowpiercer Chris Evans and the rest of the rebelling welfare-class characters are outraged when they find out the protein gelatin blocks they subsist on are made from insects. Of course, a bit later Evans gives an extended monologue about the awful early days of the train when they'd all been eating each other, and particularly coveting baby flesh. So, yeah, there's just no pleasing some people.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I'm told that silkworm pupae are pretty good to eat. And they're already being farmed for other purposes, so they're easily available.

  • KerryW||

    The Iowa State Fair is famous for having all kinds of food on a stick. Maybe they can add cricket on a stick.

  • WillPaine||

    Plants are still more efficient at producing proteins, no?. The Inca conquered the Andes on a protein base of quinoa, and the Japanese nearly conquered half the world eating soy. Quinoa and soy are the two known plants that contain all of the essential amino acids; and grain legume combination is complete, as well. (Yr. 50 of vegetarianism; mostly vegan) How much water and plant material does it take to raise a cricket? Maybe such is somehow doable, I don't know. An old childhood bet/curse: "Eat a bug?!"..#:-)

  • Rossami||

    It should be noted that the 'bug parts in food' rules are about adulteration and sanitation, NOT about the healthiness of the bugs themselves. In other words, it's perfectly okay to buy a box of deep fried cajun-spiced beetles but I would be rather upset to find those in my salad unexpectedly. And while perfection is impossible, if you've got more than 5 fly eggs per 250 ml in the juice, what else are you letting through?

  • MichaelL||

    Crustaceans, like shrimp, crabs, and lobster, are all animals with exoskeletons, are related to "bugs". I will happily consume them, if safe.

  • Bob Armstrong||

    I lived by ChinaTown in lower Manhattan for a couple of decades and did lots of my grocery shopping there . All sorts of creatures were for sale , many trying to escape their bushel baskets on the street .

    No bugs that I can remember . And if they're not a staple in China ...

    Possibly grubs of some sort might make a decent meal , but most bugs are lots of chitin and little else .

  • Devastator||

    I tried a grub at one of those "weird world foods" festivals and it was nasty as fuck. I did try the chocolate crickets and they were good, but basically they tasted like chocolate.

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