How about a waxworm taco, some larvae ceviche, or a few soy grasshoppers?

edible crickets
CC BY 2.0 shanlung

Welcome to the world of entomophagy! Instead of fixating on the usual sources of animal protein, omnivores should consider the creepy-crawlies that live in such abundance and provide excellent nutritive value.

“Entomophagy” is a word that has yet to enter the common English vocabulary, but there are many people who are working hard to ensure that it does. It means “the practice of eating insects, especially by people” – and it’s a fair bet that that definition just elicited a reaction of disgust from many of you readers.

Devout entomophagists, however, don’t let disgust stand in their way. They are on an admirable mission to “promote the use of insects as human food and as animal feed in assuring food security,” according to a fascinating article by Emily Anthes called “Lovely grub – are insects the future of food?

With the world’s human population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and with developing countries’ growing appetite for meat, insects may be a sensible solution to our dilemma of how to produce sufficient protein for that many people without causing further harm to the planet. The factory farming model is known to be unethical and highly damaging, emitting more greenhouse gases than cars, planes, and trains combined.

Insects, on the other hand, have an incredible feed-to-food ratio and can be raised on refuse and waste, which would speed up composting. Anthes writes:

Insects are chock-full of protein and rich in essential micronutrients, such as iron and zinc. They don’t need as much space as livestock, emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, and have a sky-high feed conversion rate: a single kilogram of feed yields 12 times more edible cricket protein than beef protein. Some species of insects are drought resistant and may require less water than cows, pigs, or poultry.

The biggest problem is how to convince humans that eating insects is a good idea. Many of us have ingrained aversions to bugs, which we associate with waste, dirt, decay, and disease. As Anthes points out, it’s interesting to consider how few animals we humans are actually comfortable eating. We’ve narrowed our omnivore diet to specific species – mostly cow, pig, chicken, and fish – and yet those preferred animals are really no different from rats, dogs, gorillas, and iguanas. Why, if we choose to eat animal protein in the first place, are we so picky about which animals we eat?

It will be a while before there’s an insect aisle in the supermarket, but it’s definitely worth thinking about, especially if you’re someone who eats animal protein. Insects can only be a magic solution insofar as human eaters allow them to be. It’s up to us to determine how sustainable we truly want our protein sources to be.

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