Bugs probably aren’t big when it comes to your favorite foods. While the typical Western diet typically eschews anything bug-related in our diet, many parts of the world actually embrace eating insects.
Entomophagy is the name given to the practice of eating insects. And it’s a common occurrence in other cultures. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people and more than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food.
Now why would anyone want to eat bugs? Well for one, they are a great source of protein in areas where other animal products are not as readily available. Bugs contain other micronutrients and because they themselves are lean, bugs are low in fat and saturated fat.
Insects have a “high feed conversion efficiency” meaning they require relatively little feed compared to their body weight. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and of course they take up less land than the grazing animals we typically eat.
In 2013 the FAO published Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. The authors state that, “insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science to improve human food security worldwide.”
The most commonly consumed insects are:
- Beetles (31%)
- Caterpillars (18%)
- Bees, wasps and ants (14%)
Other bugs that become food include grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, termites, dragonflies and flies.
In the US, this niche-market is gaining steam. You can buy cricket-flour infused energy bars (in 3 flavors!) from Chapul. Or, for an extra dollar, add insect protein to your Mama Bird’s Granola order.
If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge on eating bugs, maybe a beautiful book of eating insects is more for you. Noted food and photojournalists Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio published Man Eating Bugs: the art and science of eating insects – a conversation starter for any coffee table collection!
Regardless of your inklings about insects, don’t count them out as a valuable source of affordable nutrients, that may be a beneficial food shift for our planet.