You have all seen the Lion King right? Well if not, you haven’t seen the dynamic duo Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog. These guys chow down on insects that are found wherever they go and eat them as if they were a delicacy, but that’s the thing insects are delicacies around the world.
See now I always thought these guys were cool with the whole “hakuna matata” philosophy, but now I’ve dived into the word of EATING BUGS! So I did some research and I found some pretty interesting stuff about edible insects other than that they sound delicious.
On to the informative part.
Countries around the world are entomophagous (eat bugs). The strange thing in our culture is we see bugs as pests and kill them on sight because we learned that insects are “icky”. Insects are a great source of protein, fat, and other nutrients essential to our growth and depending on what bug you decide to snack on they stack up to meat and fish in the nutrient content but can also surpass them. Not only that, insects are eco-friendlier than livestock with differentiating margins in feed, water, greenhouse gas emissions, and occupational space.
Approximately 80% of the human population eats insects knowingly and 100% of the population eats them unknowingly. To see how people would react to the idea of eating bugs I conducted a little (unscientific) poll, and asked around to see how many of people would be up for the idea.
To my surprise a majority said they would as long as they didn’t physically see the insects, and the rest wouldn’t mind eating bugs as long as they tasted good.
In case you were wondering those are fried grasshoppers, which carry around 20 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and 4 grams of carbs per 100 grams.
Grasshoppers are found wherever there’s a food source, and like their relatives crickets, are another great source of nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12. Plus, those who lack these nutrients can pop a few crickets as a supplement.
Another fun fact, insects contain omega-3 fatty acids like fish, not only that but higher levels of thiamin and riboflavin than eggs. Soldier fly larvae are used in processing compost and this makes them higher in calcium than other insects, found in their exoskeletons. Over 1,000 edible insect species around the world and they’re all in our back yard; harvesting this food source can yield a new market along with job opportunities.
Other popular insects like ant and beetles have a complete protein profile like beef, chicken, and fish. There’s an added bonus, since edible insects are all over the world farms can grow local species of insects and reduce the need for transportation as opposed to the transport of livestock.
Now for the eco-friendly benefit. Let’s begin with insects being cold blooded, they use less energy to keep themselves warm and more energy to grow. Insects have shorter life spans than livestock leading to higher production since they reach maturity at faster rates. Eventually the amount of livestock needed to sustain our projected population growth won’t be feasible and will increase our carbon footprint.
Crickets require about one pound of feed to create approximately one pound of body mass and significantly less water to be kept alive. Insects release significantly less greenhouse gases than livestock, for example crickets release up to 100 times less greenhouse gases than cattle.
Large scale production of insects can be used as feed for livestock reducing the amount of land needed for the production of animal feed. Mealworms break down food waste that cannot be consumed by humans or livestock which can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions expelled by rotting organic food waste. Since we use pesticides to kill insects preserving our crops, harvesting insects can greatly reduce the need for pesticides. Pesticides are a huge danger since they stay in the organisms that affect them and it just goes up the food chain.
Finally getting to the fact that we all unknowingly eat bugs and they’re most likely than not in the very piece of food you are eating right now. The FDA uses “accepted food defects level” which is the amount of unavoidable defects in foods we eat that show zero health hazards. On average five percent of bay leaves can be insect infected, peanut butter can average out to 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams, and ground paprika can reach 75 insect fragments per 25 grams. So the FDA has certain levels of food defects that range from insect, rodent, mold, and industrial contamination (Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Sanitation & Transportation - Defect Levels Handbook." U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition).
These levels are deemed safe for human consumption but all humans consume bugs in one way, shape, or form. We just have to get past the “ick” factor, I know I have and since learning about the health and environmental benefits of insects I already tried protein bars made with cricket flour from a company called Exo (you should check them out) and I purchased roasted crickets to keep around as a snack and for cooking. There are also cookbooks that use cricket flour and other insects for various recipes!
Have I convinced you to start eating bugs yet? If not, it’s cool. It's gonna take time for pop culture to catch on, but hey it can be done There will be people that cannot consume insects due to shellfish allergies being that they’re arthropods like shrimp.
I dream of a future where food security isn’t an issue. So join me in this endeavor to spread awareness of edible bugs and let us join fellow insectivores on tasty bug treats. We can help end hunger and help save the environment at the same time! I wish I had a picture of myself eating some but it’s winter in Syracuse and they aren’t around yet.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Sanitation & Transportation - Defect Levels Handbook." U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
- Disney, Oh My. "10 Times Timon and Pumbaa Were You and Your BFF." Oh My Disney. N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
- "Eating Bugs." Eating Bugs |. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
- "Edible bugs and insects: Are these high protein critters the future of food?" Precision Nutrition. N.p., 15 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. Elton, By: Jordan. "
- "14 Surprising stats about global food consumption." ONE. N.p., 03 Oct. 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
- "Insects as Food!?!" Insects as Food!?! Entomology. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. Posted by Florian Nock 36bx on April 22, 2016.
- "Put down that bug! – Allergies and edible insects." BUGSfeed. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.