Insects are a sensible and ecologically friendly source of protein, and yet 'entomophagy' revolts most Westerners. Here's how one student is trying to change that mentality.
Cam Brantley-Rios is doing something that most of us associate with nightmares. The senior student from Auburn University has embarked on a month-long challenge to eat insects at least three times a day. He is chronicling his adventure on a blog titled “30 Days of Bugs.”
As he explains on the blog, Cam has known about the benefits of entomophagy (the scientific term for “eating insects”) for a while, and has been telling friends and family about it since last year, but he figured it was time to practice what he preached:
“This is an experiment. I want to see how feasible it is for anyone to include insects in a normal diet. Can they really be used on a daily basis? Do they actually taste good? What’s the best way to cook them? Is the cultural barrier even easy to overcome? I’m going to find out and I want to share my experience with you.”
Surprisingly, the photos of Cam’s daily meals are not as disgusting as I expected. The mealworm burgers, cricket flour cookies, breakfast smoothies and protein bars, pasta alfredo with waxworms and veggies, bags of roasted worms for snacking, and Creole-style red beans and rice with spiced mealworms actually looked OK, once I got over the initial ick factor and looked at enough pictures to normalize it somewhat.
When put it into perspective, what Cam’s doing makes a lot of sense. There’s no reason why our Western obsession with cooking dead, bloody animal parts should be any less gross than insects; it all comes down to cultural norms. National Geographic reported in its September 2014 issue that, in Uganda, a pound of crickets still costs more than a pound of beef because it’s considered a delicacy. People in Ghana eat termites; beekeepers in China consume bee larvae; Australian Aborigines eat grubs; aquatic fly larvae are popular in Japan; dewinged dragonflies are boiled in coconut milk in Bali. In Latin America, entomophagy even includes roasted tarantulas (via National Geographic).
From an environmental standpoint, insects use a fraction of the resources required to raise livestock for consumption. It takes an estimated 1,000 times less water to produce the same quantity of insects as it does to produce beef. One pound of beef requires 10 pounds of feed to produce, whereas one pound of crickets takes only 2 pounds of feed. You can also eat the entire creature, instead of discarding an estimated 60 percent of a cow (i.e. bones, hooves, hide) for being inedible.
I applaud Cam for what he’s doing because I realize the great value in exploring the world of entomophagy if we expect to feed the increasing number of protein-hungry mouths on our planet. The more people who can normalize eating bugs, the better off we’ll be in the long run. For the rest of February, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Cam’s blog. I’m very curious to see how the cockroach-eating goes. I might even order a bag of cricket flour, since that seems a good place to start.