Updated: Aug 19, 2020
What if we told you that there was a food source that is ~500% more efficient than cows in converting feed mass into dietary energy? What if we told you that this form of sustenance is also an impressive source of minerals and fibre? What if we told you that this animal also requires a 50th of the water that beef cattle rearing required?
To that, you might rightly think that if such a thing existed it’s either some agricultural start-up that violates the basic laws of thermodynamics, or some scam you’d see Dr. Oz promoting.
It’s real. And it has been around for millions of years, way before us, cows, or even mammals. We’re talking about insects – or more specifically, the practice of eating insects – Entomophagy.
In terms of dietary advantages, insects are relatively protein-rich with around 70% protein content (locusts/grasshoppers; FAO 2015). Additionally, they contain a wide range of micronutrients, such as iron, manganese, zinc, etc. which can help combat diseases arising from malnutrition (e.g. anaemia, or iron deficiency). Their cuticle (the tasty crunchy outer bits) constitutes of chitin, which has a similar molecular structure to plants’ cellulose/fibre, and thus are also amazing for your gut health.
Environmentally speaking, they also have a high feed-conversion efficiency – that is, their increase in body mass to feed mass ratio is relatively high compared to cattle rearing (FAO 2015). Additionally, insects can be reared using compost or animal faeces, generally low quality feed or side products of other agricultural processes. As such, they can reduce environmental contamination while monetising these otherwise disposable organic waste. Insects also produce significantly less GHG and ammonia, alongside a much lower water usage (Oonincx et al. 2010).
‘Edible insect’ is a fairly redundant term – insects *are* edible, and have been for as long as humans have been around. Our aversion to insects in general can be attributed largely to their roles as pests, where their negative impacts on food production and connotation with disease has earnt them a level of notoriety, especially since the agricultural revolution and unrelenting urbanisation. In fact, over a quarter of the world’s population still practise entomophagy as part of their diet (Dobermann et al. 2017). If we can overcome this superficial artefact of our social evolution (Olkowski and Okowski 1976) and move past the barriers of misinformation and cultural prejudice, hopefully we will be able to reap these advantages and utilise nature’s crunchy powerhouse.
The promotion of entomophagy also has its potential merits in its conservation (e.g. enhancing the value of inclusively conserved nature areas) and social benefits, and we warmly encourage to read more into the cultural history, contempory attitude, and future trajectory of entomophagy.
You can read about how our food system has contributed significantly towards climate change through GHG emissions, the degradation of habitats, ecosystems, and beyond in our other posts.
(Also, cicadas taste like cheese puffs, crickets tastes like corn, mealworms taste like pure protein and bee pupa tastes dreamy!)
Article written by: Nick Wong