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Would you eat insects?

Some people’s unthinking response to an insect is to swat it or spray it. There are a lot of people who subscribe to the live-and-let-live idea, but who’d greet the idea of eating insects with a shudder. But in countries where protein is a scarce commodity, they’ve always eaten insects and prepared them in some imaginative ways. And this is the future, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Unless we start producing and eating insects on an industrial scale, we’ll never feed the future world population.

The world population is growing relentlessly. By 2050, the prediction is for around nine billion people to inhabit our blue planet. How are they to be supplied with enough protein? The solution, suggests the FAO; is to eat insects rather than sheep, pigs, cattle or fish! And why? Well, for one thing, insects don’t compete with us for food (doesn’t apply to the slugs that eat your lettuces). For another, breeding and fattening insects is an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional cattle-raising and it has less of an impact on global warming. Today, a good half of the world’s grain production lands in the stomachs of beef cattle. It takes a shocking ten kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. If you’re farming insects, this problem doesn’t arise.

The FAO reports that there are around 1,400 edible insect species worldwide. Many score on extremely low fat and extraordinarily high protein, vitamins and mineral content. A Forest bug, a type of Shieldbug, for example, has gram for gram as much protein as a steak. The specialist journal “Food and Nutrition Sciences” reports that the protein content of locusts is an impressive 77 percent (g/100g) of the dry mass, making them easily equivalent to chicken. Only fish supplies more protein. The fat content varies between 4 and 34 percent. In other words, if you eat insects, you’ll be getting protein with scarcely any fat. They also contain a lot of vitamins, other amino acids and magnesium. All in all, says the journal, locusts make extraordinarily nutritious eating! Mealworms are another great source of protein, their bodies are 69 percent protein with a 30 percent fat content. They supply all the essential amino acids that people need to survive.

For around two and a half billion people in Africa, Asia and South America insects are already on the menu. In Thailand, for example, it’s no longer a case of picking up the nutritious snacks from the forest floor, instead you can buy insects that have been commercially ‘farmed’. Around 15,000 people earn at least a part of their income this way and it’s a growth industry. Demand is so high that local suppliers sometimes have to import their insects from neighbouring countries. It was only in Europe and North America that people have up to recently been generally averse to putting insects on the menu. Some people are already thinking the unthinkable – and taking action too.

The US company Bugmuscle, for example, supplies protein-rich food additives sourced from insects which are used by body builders and high-performance athletes to build muscle. The products are supplied as a powder, probably much easier to swallow than if it were still ‘on the hoof’, as it were. The slogan of the California-based company is “We don’t use steroids! We eat bugs”.

Mealworms are said to be a good place to start on an insect eating lifestyle; they apparently have a slightly nutty flavour something like popcorn. But it has to be said that, apart from a few special areas, people in Europe and North America who eat bugs at the moment do so not because of their nutritional value or better CO2 balance, but because of the novelty effect.

Author: Hendrik Jürgens
Sources: www.fao.org &