Eating Bugs: Gross or Genius?
Nothing Like a Tasty Cricket!
When most people think bugs, food is the last thing that they will think of. I mean who wants a fly in their porridge, or a spider, well anywhere? Insects are well known for being human nuisances like flies or stinkbugs, dangerous and scary like spiders, hornets and millipedes shudders, something that can carry diseases, like ticks or mosquitoes or even things that are harmful to crops like locusts and mites.
But some people like to eat insects. Pretty soon this may be necessary, in order to be able to sustain an ever-expanding world population. In fact, there are many sites and bloggers currently talking about entomophagy (the fancy name for eating bugs), but these publications are usually very biased. So I'm going to try to take an unbiased, all-things-considered look at what the buzz is about.
What's your favorite type of food?
The New Space Race
Small Food For a Big World
While it may seem preposterous, that an animal this small could feasibly provide any sort of nutrients for an organism so much larger than it, insects can feed us well precisely because they are so small.
The average cricket is very small, yet very efficient in their conversion of protein. It is estimated that 70% of the agricultural land and 30% of the total land on Earth is used to produce livestock. This is because the average head of livestock is not a cricket.
According to the USDA, cows need about 1.8 acres of land to be raised on humanely and healthily. Cows account for about 80% of agricultural input, but only account for about 10% of agricultural output, making them very inefficient in terms of a land-food ratio. Crickets and other edible insects are much more efficient with land usage, only requiring a few square meters of space to raise hundreds of insects.
In about 30 years the total population of the world is said to be about 9 billion. There is going to be trouble in trying to find ways that we can shelter all of these people, and there is going to be trouble in finding ways to fit all the people and all the livestock that is going to feed them.
The insects also solve a problem regarding water usage in a world with 9 billion people. Water is used not only to allow people and livestock to drink but also to water plants. If you are taking that water and watering plants which are then fed to a cow who later eliminates it as waste, there is going to be a lot of water used in raising a cow. In fact, the amount of water used to raise a pound of edible beef is 7 times the amount of water we drink in a year, this is not sustainable, and if we continue like this I can say with certainty that we won't have enough land to go around.
In this regard, insects very clearly trump traditional livestock. But that's to be expected, after all, insects aren't nearly comparable in size to a cow, a pig or even a chicken!
Nutrition: Food for Thought
Now that we've made clear the fact that insects trump cows and other livestock undeniably in terms of water, space and feed efficiency, we should take a look at the actual quality of the food that they are producing, starting with their nutrition.
Let's see, for this segment, I am going to focus on a few more common species of edible insect, the cricket, the locust and the mealworm. They are all commonly eaten by cultures all over the world, including Asia, Latin America, and other countries and have been cited as some of the best in terms of nutritional value.
Live Mealworm Nutritional Values*
Dried Mealworm Nutritional Values*
As you can see, the mealworm is a bit of a fattier insect, and its protein to fat ratio is very comparable to more fatty meats like beef and pork. Also, fiber and other good stuff is a big plus. They are also pretty cheap to buy in the United States, due to the fact they are in circulation as food for pets and bait for fish. Overall, food like this can be very important for growing up and having energy, and is pretty good for all types of people. Therefore my nutritional score for it is 8/10.
Dried Locust Nutritional Values (approx.)
Other: About 35%
For the most part, locusts are pretty solid in terms of the numerical values of their nutrients, but there are various problems regarding their quality. The protein from locusts is considered an incomplete protein, because methionine, an amino acid we can't make is missing from its stucture. The cholestrol content is also astonishingly high, at around 286 milligrams per 100 grams, locusts contain more cholestrol than poultry or any red meat. Although they are relatively easy to harvest and provide ample amounts of protein and fat, the locusts aren't appealing due to their two main disadvantages, due to this I am giving the locusts a score of 6/10.
Other: About 10%
Crickets are probably the most often cited edible insect, and probably one of the most eaten ones as well. There are numerous... uh fandoms of people who will testify that crickets changed their lives. While I can make no guarentee of their taste, crickets are very impressive in the field of nutrition. A protein content of about 70% makes crickets one of the most protein dense foods out there, and they don't share the same problems with the locusts. The cricket's protein contains all 9 essential amino acids, and boasts high nutrition values in protein, fat and many vitamins as well. They are probably the most promising in terms of just nutrition, and I'll admit I was very surprised when I learned they were so nutritious. Too bad they taste like nothing... ah well, nothing's perfect. Score: 9/10, was really hoping to give it a 10/10, but alas it tastes like nothing.
Gross or Genius?
Now there was some pretty compelling evidence towards the bugs, I'm not going to lie, but before you pick up your computer and start trying to buy some designer label cricket meal to feed your kids for the rest of their young lives, hear me out a bit here.
Everything in Moderation
It is no doubt true that the world will probably need to move forward in promoting the very efficient practice of insect farming just to make sure the world has enough space for people to live on, but trying to only eat insects, or trying to get other people to only eat insects isn't going to help the world in the long run. Entomophagy started as some people trying to find out alternatives for the meat in their everyday meals, because they wanted something new, not knowing the great nutritional content. Some people just thought that insects taste good, and it's true that some do when cooked well, but don't force yourself to eat things you don't like just for nutrition. I suppose this is a message that goes for all health or dietary foods, but eating things you don't really like will make you less happy, less productive and more prone to a number of physical and mental diseases, so, for now, just do what you want to do. If bugs sound cool to you, then go for it. For me, I'll stick with my steak over here, and maybe, occasionally make some cricket flour cakes or something.