By Heiloi Yip
Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects as part of a regular diet. Many cultures all around the world practice entomophagy, incorporating insects as a staple into the diets of the indigenous people. Curiously, western culture is the odd-one-out in this regard, where insects are very strongly associated with disgust. This feeling of disgust may seem so intuitive that it is absurd to think anyone would choose to eat insects over ‘traditional’ meat. However, if we are to improve the future of humanity and the environment, we should all start eating insects.
It should come as no surprise that the human population is growing exponentially, with no end to the growth in sight. In combination with economic progression in many developing countries, global demand for food is bound to skyrocket, especially meat from poultry, swine and cattle. The current meat production practices have had devastating consequences for our world, such as habitat destruction, climate change, global pandemics and more. These problems will only amplify with an actively growing population and an increasing demand for food. And so, it is time we turned to an alternative and more efficient source of meat, something to feed our growing population for longer with less ecological impact. The solution? Insects.
First and foremost, are there any nutritional benefits to eating insects over ‘traditional’ meat? In many studies conducted on commonly eaten species of insects, their nutritional contents were found to be comparable to regular livestock meat. In fact, certain species contain larger quantities of specific minerals and vitamins, such as magnesium and vitamin A, often lacking in regular livestock meat. In general, the meat of insects is nutritionally no different from meat of common livestock and can, therefore, easily replace meat in many diets. Species that are well-established to be edible include the mealworm and the cricket, both of which are easy to raise in large quantities.
So why would insects be suitable candidates for cultivation in large-scale farms? One main problem with livestock agriculture is the amount of feed required to produce the meat. Currently, 33% of the world’s farmland are devoted to feeding livestock and increasing demand for meat puts natural habitats under risk of being cleared for more farmlands. Insects alleviate this issue. A study conducted on crickets found that they can easily gain weight despite being fed low amounts of food and water. This effectively means that insects need a much lower quantity of food to gain the same increase in weight as chickens, pigs or cows! Therefore, insects would produce greater amounts of food, using the same amount of farmland dedicated to feed, to sustain our growing population.
It is also suggested that insect agriculture would produce less harmful byproducts than common livestock. Cattle are notorious for their flatulence, releasing potent greenhouse gases like methane. Whilst insects do not release greenhouse gases (at least not as frequently as cattle), and thus contribute less to atmospheric pollution and climate change.
Additionally, the crowding of livestock is a big concern, since neither cows, pigs nor chickens are adapted to living in very close proximity to their own population. This leads them to suffer various health problems, as well as creating an attractive hub for deadly viral infections. If the swine flu originated in pigs, and H1N1 in chicken, could insects be the solution? Insects are adapted to living in tight and crowded spaces, thus eliminating the issue of rearing a large concentrated population in a small area. Whilst more research needs to be conducted on insect-vector viruses, it can be said for certain that such viruses most likely will not affect humans. Since insects are very distantly related to humans, there is very little chance a virus will emerge that can infect both hosts and begin a global pandemic.
Of course, there is no denying that a slab of steak will look more appealing than a cricket sitting on your plate, legs and head still attached to the body. One advice for newcomers to entomophagy is to grind the insect up into a powder or paste and can even be incorporated in classic meals. It becomes massively easier to convince yourself to eat the insect once it no longer resembles an insect in shape. However, it is important to note that the eating of insects should be avoided when struggling with a seafood allergy. Insects are closely related to crustaceans and may trigger the same allergic reactions as consuming shellfish would.
The concept entomophagy is quickly gaining popularity. Companies all over the world are promoting entomophagy in the modern world, raising different species of insects to be sold for human consumption. Interested in trying some for yourself? Luckily there are a few restaurants and locations in London that sell insects for human consumption, such as Archipelago, Lao Café and Santo Remedio, so do consider these locations to be your next adventurous destinations!