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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Treating Insects As Livestock May Solve Our Meat Needs

What's one way to feed the growing global population on limited land while being environmentally friendly? Eat insects!

Insect Dish

Photo: Teseum (flickr)

Insect dish with crickets (Chapulines), worms (gusanos de mamey) and larvae of ants (escamoles).

A Global Delicacy

Ancient Romans and Greek aristocrats enjoyed beetle larvae prepared in flour and wine, or perhaps female cicadas full of white eggs.

Today, Japanese gourmands indulge on fly larvae sauteed in sugar and soy sauce. Foodies in Ghana snack on bread made from fried winged termites. And, a London restaurant serves crunchy bees over creamy custard.

Healthier And Safer

As the global population grows and more demands are placed on the planet, insects may become increasingly important as a meat source. Why are these crawlers ideal for consumption?

  • Insects are high in protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc, and they’re low in fat.
  • Insects are all over the place. Of all the known animal species, insects make up 80 percent; over 1,000 edible species have been identified.
  • And the taste? It’s often described as “nutty.”

There are food safety incentives to eat insects, too. Less than 0.5 percent of the known insect species are harmful for human consumption. Because humans and insects share very few commonalities, unlike humans and livestock animals like pigs or cows, diseases carried by insects have a lower risk of infecting humans.

Cows Vs. Grasshoppers

As compared to traditional meat animals, insects use less feed, heat, and water and produce less waste. While ten pounds of feed can produce one pound of beef and three pounds of pork, it can produce up to six pounds of insect meat. Insects produce 80 times less methane gas than cattle and 8-12 times less ammonia than pigs.

That, and almost their entire bodies are edible. In comparison, 65 percent of lamb and 35 percent of chicken is wasted in production.

Finally, raising insects in a factory-farm setting may be more humane than raising other livestock that way. Insects naturally live in high densities and can be kept in compact areas without suffering the stress, injuries, and sickness that most livestock experience today.

The Squeamish Western World

Although over half of the world’s population eats insects, devouring these six-legged creatures is still taboo in the United State and Europe.

Entomologist Gene DeFoliart explains that when Europe started harvesting food instead of relying on a hunter-gather lifestyle, insects became enemies because they destroyed crops.

However, insect consumption is beginning to take hold in the Western World. In the 1990s, entomologist at Wageningen University started to promote insects as food in the Netherlands, and while many laughed at first, in 2011 insects are sold in two dozen retail food outlets and restaurants around the Netherlands.

As the global population explodes, food prices skyrocket, and meat demands increase, the Western world may want to reconsider bugs and add insects to their regular diets.

Baked Crispy Crickets Recipe

Hungry? Try this recipe from “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook” by David George Gordon (Ten Speed Press).

Ingredients:

  • 20-30 frozen adult crickets or 40-60 cricket nymphs
  • Oiled baking sheet

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
  2. Strip the antennae, limbs and wings (if any) from crickets.
  3. Spread the stripped crickets on a lightly oiled baking sheet and place in oven.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or until crickets are crisp.

Sprinkle these on salads or put them through a coffee grinder to turn them into bug “flour.” You could even combine the crickets with Chex Mix for a protein-rich snack.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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