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Bugs: The New Sushi?

bug kebobs

Eat More Bugs, Save the World

An Indian restaurant in Vancouver is experimenting with cricket-flour chapatis. Chapul, a company in Salt Lake City, says sales of their cricket-packed power bars have soared since taking flight last year. The Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen is whipping up moth mousse and bee-larvae mayonnaise. A three-star French restaurant is serving mealworms with cod.

On the heels of a 150-page report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this spring, the case for entomophagy seems stronger than ever, and trend-setters are joining the swarm.

The report outlines a host of health benefits for bugs as a source of protein. Unsaturated fatty acids in mealworms are comparable to fish and higher than beef or pork. They're full of vitamins and free of pesticides -- if farmed or gathered with care.

Indirect benefits may be even more compelling. It only takes two pounds of feed to make a pound of cricket meat. Beef cattle on average scarf down nine or ten pounds of feed to put on the same weight. Cattle burps, along with the vast tracts of land cleared for pasture, account for 17 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire transportation industry worldwide. Oh, and – so far -- there's no such thing as a grasshopper flu.

Trailblazers Needed

Paul Vantomme, FAO senior forestry officer and a co-author of the report, said since insect farming uses only a fraction of the land needed for other livestock, it'll be a critical part of the planet's future diet. He said business as usual, on the other hand, would be disastrous. "We would actually have to clear all available land" to feed the world's population in 2050, he said.

Bug farming could even help tackle social and economic equality. While industrial farms are growing in size, requiring larger up-front investment to compete, "anyone with $10 in their pocket can start breeding insects anywhere," Vantomme said.

The trick, in squeamish western nations, is how to grow demand. The cultural barrier is huge. Western countries lag far behind the rest of the world, where an estimated two billion people already eat insects. Vantomme said with food trends, change has to start with adventurous early adopters.

"It happened with sushi. Who would eat raw fish in the U.S. 30 or 40 years ago?" Though the disgust factor is significant, it's not insurmountable, he said. "After all, if you can eat shrimp, why can't you eat their nephews?"

So, what's Vantomme's favorite insect snack?

"Crickets marinated in soy sauce, with a little bit of salt, to go with a cold beer on a warm summer evening."

Get More Bugs into Your Kitchen

Looking for more recipes? As it so happens, an updated edition of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, published by Ten Speed Press, hits bookshelves this week.

As something of an entomophagy evangelist, Gordon hopes to see insect agriculture develop in the future.

"Done right, we could definitely produce more protein from insects than from cows or chickens, and with much lower impacts on the environment."

But gathering wild insects appropriately requires some extra thought. To ensure a sustainable populations, he promotes the "one-in-five" approach; only collect one specimen out of every five you see in a given habitat.

During hot summer months, flying termites and ants are a good edible beginner bug, he said. With large wings and distinctive features, these queens-in-waiting are easy to identify and gather. For the most humane treatment, put them in your freezer for a while, then spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake them at around 225 degrees, checking them often to make sure they don't dry out. Mix with salt for a snack, fold them into a fresh veggie stir fry or sprinkle them on your favorite summer salad like croutons.

"People need to get over their hostile feelings about insects. One way to do that is by studying insects in the wild – spend half an hour watching what a beetle does."

Ready To Try Some Tasty Experiments?

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