When it comes to cuisine, there are still plenty of us who turn our noses up at the seaweed in sushi or France’s much-loved escargots.
But across the globe there are already 2 billion people who routinely practice entomophagy – the eating of insects – and it’s a trend that’s starting to grow among us Brits, too. Think it’s only a marketing ploy for new restaurants? Think again.
Eating bugs is eco-friendly
Insects are cold blooded, which means they’re far more efficient at using their food to grow. Crickets, for example, need six times less feed than cattle to make the same amount of protein, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Even more drastically, it takes almost 4,000 litres of water to produce a pound of beef, but less than one litre for a pound of crickets. And with food manufacturing in the UK consuming the equivalent of 5.2 million tonnes of oil, a more efficient way of producing our food could mean serious reductions in the energy our businesses use.
A switch to insect farming could also free up massive amounts of land. According to the FAO, 70% of all agricultural land is currently devoted to livestock. And while cows, pigs and sheep all need huge areas to roam and graze, insect farms can be built vertically, meaning there’s virtually no limit to the amount of food we could get out of each square meter.
On top of that, eating bugs could even have a positive impact on the emission of greenhouse gases. A 2010 study at Wageningen University for the FAO compared the rearing of cattle with the rearing of various edible insects. Pound for pound, insects produced 80 times less methane – a gas which is 25 times more damaging to global temperature levels than carbon dioxide – than cattle.
And it could be good for you, too
There’s a dizzying number of different insect species out there. And their huge diversity makes for a wide range of different nutritional benefits.
In many cases, edible insects are touted as a high-protein, high-fibre and low-fat alternative to beef or chicken. In fact, the Wageningen University report shows that some species are made of as much as 70% protein, compared to the usual 25% of beef. They could also prove to be a useful source of important micronutrients: locusts, for example, can have more than three times the iron content of beef. While mealworms were found to have levels of copper, potassium, zinc and selenium comparable with those of beef – and even higher levels of vitamins.
Beyond their nutrition, you may even find that an insect-rich diet is good for your conscience, too. While a true vegetarian might not eat anything that was once a sentient being, there are probably plenty of us who would feel much less guilty after eating a few crickets than after eating a slice of a cuddly farm animal.
As the FAO states, with global demand for livestock products expected to more than double over the next 50 years, the already high demands for energy and land are likely to double with it. But a move to edible insects could be the healthy, environmentally friendly change we need.
Could you swap your morning bacon for a bowl of crickets? Leave your comments below.