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Recently people have have noticed me going on about the advantage to the consumption of insects. This may seem rather trivial due to the proliferation of reality TV, however, I see it as an exciting opportunity to introduce a new source of food in our diet, while being sustainable and ultimately practical source of feeding our ever expanding population.

There are two articles really that sparked my interest in this idea. It may seem odd at first, but hopefully can neutralise the idea from the portrayed wackiness for entertainment sake that we’ve become used to.

Firstly however, I’d like to briefly describe the benefits of insects as a food source:

  • Sustainability – Insects are much smaller than cows to farm. They produce less methane too, meaning less green houses emitted but also more consumed due to space for trees and no deforestation
  • Efficiency – Much larger quantities can be produced quicker, cheaper and in less space. Also harbour all the nutrients that meat does.
  • Already used in food – “The US Food and Drug Administration allows, for example, up to 75 pieces of insect in 55mm of hot chocolate and up to 60 aphids in a portion of frozen broccoli.
  • High class restaurants often use them in exotic dishes already
  • Lower health risks – Due to insects being different to us so much, co-infection is much less likely. “less than 0.5% of all known insect species are harmful to people”
  • Morals – I dare say vegetarians are more likely to eat them due to a lack of morality attached with insects like there are with mammals. Stress to livestock is caused through enclosed environments – something insects naturally dwell in.

Insects are plentiful, multiply and grow to adulthood rapidly and require little food to sustain them. They are the perfect source of protein. As countries in the west and developing world wake up to the looming threat of food shortages, it’s time that governments seriously considered an alternative source of protein.

My passion for this subject is not to say that I wish to see every restaurant dealing in only-insect food sources. Rather, I think that it is an appropriate time to approach the topic with a more serious attitude, a realistic application of entmophagy that is beyond the merely surreal. It provides a pragmatic solution to the food issues currently facing the world, and increasing populations in the west are set to only further this. It is time for us to adjust to the idea of entomphagy as a real solution, a real idea, a real meal. If we become more willing to the idea as a culture, were we faced with a more prominent scenario of being required to eat insects, we are in a much better position to adapt and survive. They can be introduced slowly through increasing amounts of pastes and nut-replacements they are used for. Once this is successful and more importantly, widely known and accepted, then direct consumption is a possibility. However, it is still possible that huge benefits can be gained from using them as increasing amounts of substitutes (which they already are) which people are probably blissfully unaware of.

Efficiency and Sustainability

The main issue currently with livestock farming is that it’s both wasteful and dangerous to the environment. With much of the rainforest being cut down to provide room for livestock farming, we are perilously close to loosing the ‘lungs of the world’ – the Amazon rain forest. With livestock contributing up to 18% of greenhouse gases, cutting down the rainforest to replace it with a contributor is vastly counterproductive. With insects being much smaller, we can grow them in much larger quantities in much smaller spaces. There’s also the fact that we can easily stack farms on top of each other rather than being restricted to one plane. It’s not exactly common to see cattle navigating stairs.

Equally, being cold blooded, insects require much less food input for what we gain as energy is not wasted on body heat.

Ten pounds of feed yields one pound of beef, three pounds of pork, five pounds of chicken and up to six pounds of insect meat.

This is a 60% yield compared to 10% of beef. Equally, more of the insect can be consumed. 20% of a cricket is inedible, compared to 30% for pork or 65% for lamb. So all around, they are much more efficient and thus more sustainable in an age where the green credentials are vital to judgement.

There’s not much more I can say really. It’s a fairly simple idea, with many benefits to be gained. It’s simply a case of changing and accepting the mindset to increase insects in our diet. We are already someway there with using insects instead of livestock and other less sustainable sources of food in using them as dyes or substitutes. But we have a long way to go before it is widely accepted within western culture. In South Asia it is already widely accepted and a necessity as livestock cannot fulfill all of the needs in such a densely populated region. It is time for us to begin to change the way we think and become more comfortable with the idea of entomophagy, for one day we may have to do the same.

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