The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization recently published data and information making a case to consider bugs and insects as a viable source of protein to help aid in world hunger and pollution. Third-world and other less developed countries already integrate insects into their daily diet and the Rome-based FAO believes that developed countries should follow suit.
Does that simply mean you’d be eating crickets on your pancakes in the morning and beetles in your burger in the evening? Well…yes, and no.
How exactly does this all work?
It’s a very complex and global process, so let’s start with the simple nutritional aspect of the issue. Gram-per-gram, edible insects such as grasshoppers and certain species of beetles and ants pack as much protein value as lean ground beef, expect without all the fat grams. It’s nearly pure protein. Other insects carry viable amounts of magnesium, iron, phosphorous and zinc.
Although they are fried, many cultures are accustomed to eating insects whole. Others have devised methods of grinding the insects down into a less-creepy form, and adding it to the meal as a supplemental ingredient. Ironically, one American man has even found a way to grind down crickets into a flower used in an all-organic (literally) protein bar, the Chapul Bar.
Some foods we eat here in the United States already have bug properties added to them, but not for the nutritional value. An internationally known dairy company uses cochineal extract from Peru to color its strawberry yogurt. Pharmaceutical companies have also been known to use bug extract to add color to their pills and medicines.
Little bugs with big consequences.
The FAO argues that as more nations introduce insects into their daily diet, it will have a long-term and global affect on the environment and pollution. People naturally look to meats and poultry as a main source of protein. The problem with that is that it requires the mass-management of cattle and chicken farms to sustain the supply the demand requires. These large growth farms have a few implications. First, they requires extremely large amounts of water. For this reason, the Colorado River nearly runs dry by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico because the water is used to supply farms and livestock along the route. Saving the amount of water is takes to maintain those farms would re-liven the integrity of such rivers around the country.
This brings us to our next point. On average, insects need about four pounds of feed to ultimately convert into the equivalent of two pounds of meat. Cattle require over 17 pounds of feed to produce 2 pounds of meat, and one cow offers several hundred pounds of meat. The difference in greenhouse gases emitted between the two scenarios and methods is astronomical. Environmentally speaking, cultivating insects for human consumption is a lot less harmful to the atmosphere than raising livestock to deliver the same result.
It’s certainly an interesting argument.
Fully integrating insects into our daily meal selection sounds a bit primitive, even if there are quantifiable health benefits versus the alternative norm. It will take a lot more than data and raising environmental issues to alter the psyche and tolerance of entire cultures and civilizations regarding the diet they have adopted for decades, even centuries. Ultimately, is it a viable and realistic solution? Probably. Food producers will have to integrate insects into food as an ingredient first, much like Chapul’s cricket bar.
First-world countries are a looong way off from adopting whole, fried insects as snacks and side dishes. Extracts must be the first step. Fried beetles are a ways down the road.
…unless you’re Salma Hayek… or Angelina Jolie.