Is Eating Insects the Answer to Reducing our Food Footprint?


Image: Flickr user avlxyz tries an insect at Chiang Mai bazaar

Hungry for a grasshopper taco? Well, probably not. But the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) thinks it is time for an end to the "Eewww!" response to the thought of eating insects. The FAO reports that there are more than 1000 edible insect species. Insects can provide protein in the diet at a much lower environmental cost than traditional livestock, such as cows, pigs, or sheep. The FAO started the push to improve the image of edible insects at a workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where bugs are already a common feature on the menu. The proceedings of the Chiang Mai workshop on edible insects are now available online (pdf).

Since then, the FAO has been campaigning to increase appetites for insects, focusing especially on developing areas where protein supplies are scarce and sustainable harvesting of insects can contribute to both nutritional and economic improvements. For example, in May 2010, the FAO launched a program in Laos featuring celebrity chefs competing to whip up the tastiest insect dishes.

Insects offer many advantages as a sustainable source of protein. The cold-blooded creatures require less feed to produce proteins. For example, a cricket can produce the protein equivalent of cows with six times less feed. Furthermore, insects can often feed on organic waste matter.

Moreover, insects are already considered delicacies in many cultures, and the practice of eating insects goes back millenia. The Eewww-factor is a learned behavior reflecting our recent sensibilities about hygiene and health (quite ignoring the fact that we are all eating bugs already in foods meeting prescribed contamination limits).

But insects which are properly raised, harvested and prepared present no risks to health. Quite the contrary: insects offer healthy nutritional value including largely unsaturated fats, high iron content, minerals, and vitamins.

Of course, no campaign to market a new food trend can get around the fundamental question: how do they taste? Flickr user avlxyz, pictured above, reports on the experience: "The creamy belly tasted like scrambled eggs, while the thorax/lung area was a bit spongey. The shell is pretty tasteless and not edible anyway."

Not convinced? Well, at least for those of us in parts of the world where simply meeting our minimal nutritional demands is not the major issue, there is always the weekday vegetarian diet as an alternative.

More on Edible Insects:
There's Crap in Our Food. Literally.
Eat Insects. Save the World?
Bugs are Back on the Menu
More on Livestock Footprints:
Study Finds Meat and Dairy Create More Emissions Than Miles
Pork Chops Won't Give You Swine Flu, But Here Are Other Reasons to Abstain
World Dairy Industry Equals 4 Percent of Man-Made Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Saving Civilization is Not a Spectator Sport

Tags: Agriculture | Food Safety | Insects | Vegetarian