The recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s report on harvesting insects to help fight world hunger created a lot of headlines. It also got a lot of people thinking and talking about the topic. Though the thought of eating insects is, for most Americans and Europeans, a tough one to swallow, there’s actually a lot to love about bugs. Seriously.
Now’s the time to take a fresh look at our multi-limbed friends as a palate-expanding, potentially very useful, healthy food option worth considering. Before your gag reflex gets the best of you, consider the upsides. If helping to fight world hunger isn’t enough, then start by thinking of insect-eating as the next culinary frontier – an adventure on your plate – and one that happens to be packed with numerous earth and body-loving benefits.
Here’s the skinny – and some food for thought – on how eating more insects and less greenhouse gas-emitting livestock is an idea whose time has come:
1. It’s not unusual.
For thousands of years, insects have been a common menu item and delicious source of protein for everyone from the ancient Greeks and Romans to 21st century Asians, African and Latin Americans. And if you think bug-o-vores are a minority, think again – it’s estimated that more than 2 billion people fall into the insect-eating camp. And it’s not just “poor man’s” food, certain varieties of insects are seen as delicacies and luxury items.
2. Bugs do a body good.
Eating insects can add healthy protein, unsaturated fat and minerals to meals, without doing a number on your waistline. They stack up better nutritionally than beef and, in some cases, fish. Not surprisingly, insects pack few if any carbohydrates and are rich in B vitamins and iron, so nutritionally, there’s a big upside, not only for those in the developing world, but for all of us.
3. By the way, you’ve already eaten insects.
Even if you don’t count the college-era, liquor-soaked worm at the bottom of the mescal bottle, you’ve probably already eaten more insects than you realize. One of the more prominent sources is food dye. Turns out, the commonly used cochineal extract and carmine (which replaced red dye #2), both come from crushed, dried female cochineal bug bodies. Surprise!
4. They are the Ultimate Sustainable Protein.
As we struggle to feed our planet’s growing population, this renewed interest in insects as a reliable, sustainable food source is something of a no-brainer. Insects consume few resources, mature quickly and are extremely plentiful. Like reducing our reliance on petroleum by harnessing alternative energy sources, supplementing protein needs with alternative food sources like insects looks like one very wise way to support the health of Mother Earth – as well as our own. Sounds like a win-win to us.
5. Like variety? Take your pick.
Had enough meat, fish and poultry for one lifetime, but unwilling to go totally vegetarian? Introducing insects to your repertoire is one way to step out of your culinary comfort zone, while adding plenty of new tastes and textures to the mix. And with roughly 1,900 or so edible species on offer, it’s unlikely you’ll run out of options anytime soon. Among the most popular edible insects in the world: beetles, caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and cicadas. A word to the wise though – don’t start your insect journey by digging up the backyard, scooping up some bugs and firing up the grill. As with most adventures, culinary or otherwise, do some research, read up on your bugs of choice, and start small.
6. Insects might just save the planet.
Truth be told, livestock are helping to create some massive ecological problems, and our seemingly insatiable demand for meat and poultry is only exacerbating the issue. With livestock currently creating roughly 20 % of greenhouse gasses, that number can only be expected to rise if we don’t change what we eat. If we can reduce consumption and replace it with an eco-friendly protein source – namely edible insects – one day we just might be able to say that bugs saved the Earth and ended world hunger. Isn’t that a goal worth aiming for?
My one and only experience eating insects was in China many years ago when we were served fried caterpillars. Although I really did not want to eat them, I felt obliged lest I offend our hosts. But I actually quite enjoyed them, they were crispy and crunchy, sort of like French fries. Has anyone had any experiences eating insects? Share your experiences if you want.