Can eating insects save the world?

Image Credit: Ngguls via Wikimedia Commons

If you had asked an average UK citizen before the 1970’s to try a bite of raw fish, you’d have been met with a strange look. And yet, today sushi is widely popular all over the UK, Europe, and the United States. Like anything else, food trends come in and out of fashion, and there may be a new trend in environmentally-friendly cuisine coming to the western world.

Entomophagy, or eating insects, is practiced by about two billion people globally, but western cultures are generally resistant to it. However, Abokado, a sushi chain based in London, has started incorporating crickets into their dishes with the claim that eating insects is both “healthy” and “sustainable.” Abokado managing director Kara Alderin suggests that insects will soon be incorporated into a wider variety of foods in our everyday diet. Even Sainsbury’s sells snack packs of grubs at select locations.

Entomophobia, the fear of insects, is among the most common animal-based fear. This translates into a fear of trying insects as food. Charlotte Payne, a zoologist at University of Cambridge, states, “People are scared to try something unfamiliar – and most people don’t automatically link insects with deliciousness.”

However, some media attention towards insect as food is emerging. In January, Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts ate at least one  insect a day for a week as part of a documentary titled Grub’s Up: Eating Insects for One Week.

“It’s changed my view on edible insects, and I’d definitely consider eating them if they were on the menu at a restaurant or if they came with a dish. They’re very tasty if you know how to cook them properly,” says Adele. Like any other acquired taste, the secret to delicious insect meals may lie in the preparation.

In addition to their taste, there are numerous health and environmental benefits to eating insects. Insects are protein-dense and low-fat alternatives to meat and fish. They can also be eaten whole, compared to the mere 40 per cent of a cow that actually makes it to the kitchen.

Farming insects takes far fewer resources than other livestock farming, and insects are estimated to release 80 per cent less methane than cows. Dr Tilly Collins from Imperial College London also states that “We can grow insects on food waste, so we convert something that is essentially a waste product into a protein.” For example, grasshoppers will happily eat the leftover corn stalks that typically go to waste or are burned.

In addition to their taste, there are numerous health and environmental benefits to eating insects.

Despite their potential for sustainability, not all insect products are inherently less impactful on the environment. “Some low-footprint locally sourced meats will likely be more sustainable than some resource-intensive imported insects,” says Charlotte Payne. Insect farming must be done thoughtfully and sustainably, or it could be subject to the same issues that face other forms of agriculture today.

Joshua Evans, who co-wrote On Eating Insects, also suggests that insects may not be the instantaneous solution to resource-heavy agriculture that people are hoping for. He claims that farmers were similarly enthusiastic about soy in the mid-20th century. He says soy was turned into a patentable product, “causing massive deforestation of the Amazon to plant vast monocultures whose yield is then shipped elsewhere so that we can continue to produce very cheap beef.”

So, while insects are a cleaner alternative to beef, they are not an instant solution to food or environmental crises. Like any other alternative to our current use of resources, edible insects are just one option among an array of actions people and industries can take towards more sustainable living for all. And if cooked well, they may be a delicious one at that.

This post was written by Miles Martin and edited by Karolina Zięba.

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