It’s getting pretty difficult to feed 7 billion people.
The pressures on the fishing, meat, and agriculture industries have continuously proved the need for more sustainable ways to feed our ever-growing population. In 2013, scientists developed a form of beef grown entirely in a lab resulting in a $325,000 hamburger. The world’s first lab-grown burger led to a whole slew of questions about the ethics of lab-grown meat, the safety of genetically modified food, and the future of meat eating. The experiment, while undoubtedly interesting, misses the overwhelming problem of food shortages. In the future there very well may be a cost and resource effective means of delivering safe and ethical meat to the masses. In the mean time, we need to start looking at other options if we want to avoid global food shortages.
Entomophagy from Greek ἔντομον éntomon, “insect”, and φᾰγεῖν phagein, “to eat”
The insect can be grown in nearly any climate, requires little space, and yields incredibly protein-filled dietary options. In every respect, insects set the bar for food security. In stark contrast to traditional agriculture, insects are resilient to climate change and can be grown year round. Crickets are nearly 70% protein by dry weight, far more than traditional meat sources (broiled beef contains approximately 28% protein). The genetic dissimilarity between ourselves and the insect makes it far less susceptible to food borne illnesses endemic to the meat industry. Unlike cows, insects produce much less greenhouses gas and require far fewer resources. In addition, they even work to break down waste making them a much more environmentally-friendly source of food.
From a culinary standpoint, creepy crawlies are uncharted territory in the west. There are over 1000 known species of edible insects. That means countless flavor profiles, new recipes, and even entire forms of cuisine that have yet to be discovered by the wider world. Many of these bugs can be eaten whole like the crunchy, spicy Mexican Chapuline. In addition, insects can be ground up into a flour to be the base of a variety of baked goods, energy bars, and even candies. A group of McGill students were awarded the $1 million Hull Prize to develop an insect-based “Power Flour” in order to feed starving populations. But soon insect flour products will not just be for the malnourished. Companies like Exo and Chapul are offering pre-orders for their cricket flour based energy bars.
“When our sane and learned lunatic made that very statement of how he used to consume life, his mouth was actually nauseous with the flies and spiders which he had eaten just before Mrs. Harker entered the room” – Dracula, Bram Stoker
Of course, all of the statistics, arguments, and new recipes cannot nullify the fact that many people find eating bugs utterly gross. In many western societies entomophagy is viewed as a taboo. Yet, “80% of the world’s nations” consume insects as part of their diet. In light of the rest of the world’s predilection for bugs, the American view of entomophagy seems a little skewed. To borrow the title of a David Foster Wallace essay: consider the lobster. The lobster, like many insects, is an arthropod. It moves in the same unnerving way as most insects. It has an unfamiliar number of legs, exoskeleton, and beady lifeless eyes. And yet, it rose from being the food of prisoners to a staple of upper class dining. Looking at crayfish and other edible crustaceans, insects do not seem all that different. So why do Americans resist the temptation of other scrumptious arthropods? Some would argue biology is to blame, that evolution has taught us to fear insects. Society seems to have a lot to do with it as well. Insects are symbols of death and decay and are even associated with the devil.
I believe that insects are the future. As an unapologetic meat-eater, I am not happy about the prospect. But, I want to learn to love insects as a source of food. As soon as Exo and Chapul’s energy bars become available, I’ll give them a try. I don’t see myself seeing eating anything with the legs still attached, but I think that insect flour could be a new and interesting dietary choice.
To the reader: What would it take for you eat an insect product?