As the global population continues to rise, scientists and world leaders are searching for food sources capable of adequately sustaining our growing numbers. Traditional meat proteins are viewed as less and less feasible solutions, as it is not only cost prohibitive to feed and rear the source animals, but also the production of these meats rivals automobiles as one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who has extensively studied this matter, states, "There is a meat crisis . . .the world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth."
As socially taboo as the idea may seem to many, experts are increasingly turning to insects as a viable alternative. Insects contain high levels of protein, vitamins and minerals, all of which can contribute to a nutritionally sound human diet. In addition, farming insects produces significantly less greenhouse gas than with livestock. For example, insects such as locusts, crickets and meal worms, emit 10 times less methane than livestock. The insects also produce 300 times less nitrous oxide, also a warming gas, and much less ammonia, a pollutant produced by pig and poultry farming. Pesticides, and their concomitant negative effects on human health and the environment, could be eliminated since the once shunned insects that feed on crops would now be welcomed and harvested. Moreover, up to 100 times less water is required per pound of usable protein when farming insects as opposed to meat-yielding mammals. As David Gracer of SmallStockFoods has stated, “Insects can feed the world. Cows and pigs are the S.U.V.’s; bugs are the bicycles.”
While many Western cultures exhibit negative stereotypes surrounding insect consumption, it’s important to keep in mind that 80% of the world’s cultures include insects in their diet. For example, aquatic fly larvae in sugar and candied grasshoppers are enjoyed in Japan, Mexicans relish toasted grasshoppers, and fried giant red ants, crickets and June beetles are featured in several Thai dishes, among many other examples. Furthermore, whether we know it or not, there is already significant insect matter present in many Western base food products. For instance, the FDA allows an average of 150 or more insect fragments per 100 grams of wheat flour.
In order to overcome the biggest barrier to insect adoption in the Western culinary world, insects must at least initially be produced and marketed under a more recognizable guise. Like soy products, insect products can be molded to resemble more familiar dishes, such as burgers, nuggets, and just about any other preparation imaginable. No matter the current Western attitude, world population growth will continue to present a significant challenge to all nations, and keeping an open mind towards insect consumption may be one of the keys to ensuring a sustainable future existence for all.