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Eating Insects to Save Insects?

Recently, I have been seeing articles pop up covering the rapid decline of insect populations around the world. I came across an article written for Time magazine arguing for insect protection through consumption. Wondering if my local supermarket chain sold edible insect food, I quickly typed “insect food at Hannaford’s.” The main result were links to repellent and pesticide products, a search result that says everything about how our country thinks of these creatures. For the most part, we Americans have been conditioned to believe that insects are gross pests to be shooed away and killed. Little do we know that insect protection and consumption is key to our future well-being. Striving to protect and consume more bugs may seem contradictory, but they actually work hand-in-hand. If we farm colossal numbers of edible bugs for consumption, communities around the world will not resort to insect-destructive deforestation of local lands for cattle grazing, palm oil, or whatever unsustainable practice may temporarily put food on the table. To quote entomologist Brian Fisher, “There is no way to save the forests without taking care of the people who live near them, and that means giving them food security.” Fisher is referring to populations living in Madagascar, but this idea applies to everyone.


In New England, most of our insects do not even pose a threat to human health. Nevertheless, I assumed many residents in this region share my naïve entomophobia, ignoring the crucial role that insects play in the world’s food supply. Basically everywhere else, where far more venomous spiders, bees, and various insects exist, people view these beings as protein. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 2 billion people around the world eat insects regularly. Insect pollinators are responsible for about one-third of the human diet. Agricultural production dependent on animal pollination has increased 300% in the past 50 years. With the world’s population estimated to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, agricultural production would have to increase 70% in order to feed everyone. With two out of these five invertebrate pollinators being on the path towards extinction, this increase in production is impossible. Billions of people’s lives are at stake. I wish I could add some optimistic facts for the reader here, but our western societies simply do not do enough to curb the excessive amount of food consumed here. The average American ate 264 pounds of meat in 2020, an American record high. We need to act now.

While incorporating insect-protein into our diets will be essential for a sustainable future whether or not they delight the taste buds, some of these new food alternatives have been loved by certain Americans. In a 2020 study in the Journal of Insect Science, students were found to prefer cricket flour brownies over the wheat flour ones. Jose Andres’ restaurant in Washington D.C. serves grasshopper-filled tacos with chili-lime salt seasoning, and an East Village restaurant serves guacamole with ground black ants in it. Insects have yet to reach the chain-supermarket shelves for the hundreds of millions of U.S. residents to buy, but they can definitely be found here and there. I must note, the environmental benefits of eating insects far outweigh their beef, chicken, fish, and pork alternatives. Eating insects drastically decreases our carbon emissions, water consumption, agricultural land-use, ammonia production, and poaching rates. Replacing meat with an insect-protein diet increases our body’s zinc, copper, and magnesium levels far more. They have a high-feed conversion efficiency, and their feces, called frass, is a great fertilizer that improves soil health. Abundant insect populations are the key to a healthier planet, plain and simple.


Since edible insect food is basically impossible to find in the U.S., this post is mostly for educational purposes. But, the lack of this sustainable protein alternative on supermarket shelves means you can start pressuring your local food suppliers right away. You can work with Little Herds, a non-profit that advocates for supporting quality food security, partially through insect consumption. Support these startups whose products involve entomophagy, one of which sells cricket-based dog food! Getting over our disgust of these bugs is essential to a more sustainable way of life. Stop the hate, and put them on your plate.



References


Baker, Aryn. “How Humans Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet.” Time, Time, 26 Feb. 2021, https://time.com/5942290/eat-insects-save-planet/.


Battaglia, Daniela. “Insects for Food and Feed.” Insects for Food and Feed, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 14 Dec. 2020, https://www.fao.org/edible-insects/en/.


Borenstein, Seth. “Climate Change, Big Agriculture Combine to Threaten Insects.” Climate Change, Big Agriculture Combine to Threaten Insects, Associated Press, 20 Apr. 2022, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-04-20/climate-change-big-agriculture-combine-to-threaten-insects.


Kuck, Gretchen, and Gary Schnitkey. “An Overview of Meat Consumption in the United States .” Farmdoc Daily.illionis.edu, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics University of Illinois, 12 May 2021, https://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2021/05/an-overview-of-meat-consumption-in-the-united-states.html#:~:text=From%201999%20to%202006%2C%20meat,pounds%20per%20person%20in%202020.


Petersen, Matthew, et al. “University Student Perspectives of Entomophagy: Positive Attitudes Lead to Observability and Education Opportunities.” Journal of Insect Science, vol. 20, no. 5, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1093/jisesa/ieaa120.


Oonincx, Dennis G., et al. “An Exploration on Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia Production by Insect Species Suitable for Animal or Human Consumption.” PLoS ONE, vol. 5, no. 12, 2010, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014445.


folio3. “What Is Feed Conversion Ratio (Fcrs) and Factors Effect on FCR.” Folio3 Animal Care Practice, 24 Aug. 2021, https://animalcare.folio3.com/feed-conversion-ratio/.


Noe, Maggie. “These 6 Startups Are Creating Buzz around Edible Insects.” Greenbiz, 2021, https://www.greenbiz.com/article/these-6-startups-are-creating-buzz-around-edible-insects.


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