“Wow, these crickets are a lovely compliment to the meal,” is a statement that you probably don’t hear often at the dinner table. However, there may be some value in adding insects to your diet.
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By 2050, our population is expected to grow to 9 million people. To feed all of those people & meet growing demand, it is expected that food production will need to increase by 70%. This, however, poses a problem; to grow more food, we need more agriculturally viable land – something that we currently do not have. The resources we currently use to sustain our agricultural systems are diminishing, especially in the case of land and water. So how are we going to feed all these people? How can we solve the problem?
Insects, you say? Hmm, what an interesting thought! Eating insects as a practice is known as Entomophagy, and has been around for centuries. It is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide include insects as a substantial part of their diet, and countries like Cambodia, Mexico, Malawi, and Peru have integrated insects into their diets as a sustainable food source.
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Much of the western world turns a blind eye to such an idea; this may be because insects are thought of as pests. However – thinking on a global scale – insects could be the answer to many of our food security problems.
Although it has not been extensively studied, research suggests that insect harvesting and production is much less environmentally costly than current protein sources such as livestock farming. Harvesting insects emits fewer greenhouses gasses, produces less ammonia than cattle and pigs, and requires less land and water resources than cattle ranching. In addition, feed conversion in insects is very high, needing only 2kg of feed for every 1kg of body weight gained. This is huge compared to cattle and swine feed efficiency, showing that we would need to devote less agriculturally viable land to feeding our protein sources.
Consuming insects can also be beneficial to human health. Of the 1,900 edible insect species there are in the world, numerous nutritional benefits are included. Insects are high in fats, proteins, vitamins, fiber, and mineral content; making them an ideal food for human consumption. Insects can be consumed whole or made into granular or paste forms, providing a vast amount of consumptive options.
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Along with human consumption, insects can also be used to feed livestock and aquaculture systems. By using insects, we could save agricultural space by harvesting insects and feeding them to our livestock, cutting out the need for large soy and corn producing farms.
Around the world, insect harvesting can create stability and introduce jobs to the market while adding to the economy. They are also a source of nutritional security in times of distress or social conflict, as they have high nutritional composition, are easily accessible, and are cheap and easy to produce. Having this opportunity introduces a market that can help less developed areas such as Southeast Asia and Central Africa, while boosting their economy and quality of life.
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Eating insects has multilevel benefits, from singular health, to economic, to large scale environmental. So they next time someone offers you up some crunchy critters, try one out…you may even find a new favorite food!