Entomophagy – A New Source of Protein: Can Eating Insects Help the Environment?
By Ellie Gabel
The growing global population is increasing the total demand for food production. One unconventional solution to this problem is edible insect farming. Many cultures around the world already incorporate insects into their daily food intake. Should the rest of the world follow suit?
The answer is yes, but it may be a tough idea for many to consider. The psychological barrier could be difficult to overcome. Still, edible insects provide a promising solution to deforestation, rising greenhouse gas emissions attributed to raising livestock and food shortage from a statistical perspective.
Entomophagy: Farming for the Future
Raising more edible insects and adding them to the daily food intake of the global population may be the key to all these problems. Insects cost much less to produce than traditional meat sources like chicken, pork and beef. They’re also competitive in terms of nutritional value — if not better — due to the natural occurrence of fatty acids, high protein content and dietary fiber.
Eating insects can be beneficial due to their inherent nutritional value. Here are just a few dietary facts to consider:
- Insects’ protein content is in the same range as beef and pork at 40-75g per 100g dry weight.
- The total fat content range is from 2% to sixty-two percent.
- Insects are rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
- Edible insects are an essential source of dietary fiber due to the naturally occurring chitin in their exoskeletons.
Environmental Considerations of Insect Farming
Traditional meat sources like pork, chicken, and beef are becoming economically and environmentally expensive. The total yield ratio is also a factor, especially since edible insects are easier to produce than cattle.
It only takes less than 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of edible insects. That is considerably less than chicken, which requires 2.5 kg, pork with 5 kg and beef with up to 10 kg. Raising edible insects also uses less water, aiding in conserving world water reserves. The production of 1 kg of chicken meat requires 2,300 L, 3,500 for pork and 22,000-43,000 L for beef. Edible insects need considerably less to produce the same body weight.
In addition, insects can be raised using organic materials like compost and manure. This starkly compares the feed required to raise poultry and livestock. Using organic waste from raising insects helps conserve the environment in more ways than one.
Insect waste or frass is an excellent fertilizer and soil amende, which is especially useful for producing vegetables and other agricultural products. On the other hand, animal waste — such as manure and urine — releases large amounts of greenhouse gasses that significantly contribute to global warming.
Livestock rearing produces 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In America alone, livestock accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, trailing behind the 28% produced by the transport sector.
Raising edible insects can be a viable global approach to many of the world’s environmental and food problems. While it can prove challenging to introduce them to the international community, they have undeniable merits the world could benefit from in the long run.
Eating Insects: A World View
Where raising traditional meat sources fail, edible insect farming is succeeding. They are quicker to mature for harvest, consume fewer resources, require less land to grow and have the nutritional value to compete with other meat sources.
The challenge lies in introducing it as a viable and widely-accepted food source. However, people all over the world consider insects a culinary staple. From Asia and Africa to Central America, there are an estimated 2 billion people eating insects regularly.
Eating insects is called entomophagy, and countries like Thailand, Zimbabwe and Mexico are just a few examples that enjoy bugs as part of their daily diet. From fried larvae and caterpillar soups to toasted grasshoppers, these insects offer high nutritional value without the heavy environmental tradeoff.
However, in Europe and North America, people still see insects as pests instead of food. This stigma stands in the way of seeing bugs as a food substitute. Fortunately, some companies are trying to rise against that belief to convince these populations to think differently.
Investing in Bugs to Feed the World
Canadian cricket powder producer Entomo Farms is one of those businesses. It is the country’s largest producer of organic cricket powder — the farm can house up to 15 million crickets and produces up to 9,000 lbs of insects a week.
Its main product — cricket powder — is incorporated into various products ranging from smoothie mixes to flour additives as a protein boost. This shows that with proper processing and branding, it is possible to market bugs to a wider population without the cringe factor.
In Madagascar, eating bugs provides food security for local communities while helping save an endangered species of lemurs. Two-thirds of the country’s population already eats insects, but people hunt lemurs instead because of limited protein options. With over 90% of the population living below the international poverty line, a solution arose — cricket farming.
Madagascar Biodiversity Center’s vital research on insect farming introduced a solution to the dwindling population of lemurs, food shortage and malnutrition. By giving the locals a sustainable protein source, they were able to cut bushmeat consumption, and aid Catholic Relief Services in their country-wide famine relief projects and tuberculosis treatment.
Ynsect is also a name making the rounds in the alternative food industry. The French biochemical startup invests heavily in developing insect-based products for human consumption.
While their main goal is to introduce mealworms as an alternative to other animal proteins, they are also keen on spreading the sustainable aspect of the practice. The company claims to use 98% less land than traditional meat farming. This, in turn, reduces the total carbon footprint of raising animals for protein.
Food, Not Filth
With everything that people have said about edible insects, it’s undeniable that there is a pushback against this practice from the global population. While eating insects is nothing new, it is still a foreign concept for many people. Getting them to try eating bugs for a change may take more than a little convincing.
That worldview may be changing, especially with the efforts of some organizations that are lobbying for a refreshed perspective on edible insects. Everyone can learn from these cultures and organizations, and see bugs for what they are — six-legged creatures that are food, not filth. Considering all the positive implications, it could benefit the whole world to try snacking on insects from time to time.
About the Author
Ellie Gabel is the sciences editor at Revolutionized, where she specializes in astronomy, environmental science, and innovative technologies.
Read more at Library of Congress: Entomophagy: A Resource Guide