While many cultures around the world regularly eat insects, people in North America and Europe are generally still squeamish when it comes to plopping a mealworm in their mouth. But insects are a much more sustainable source of animal “meat” than beef, chicken, and pork – insects take up less space, eat less food to make the same amount of meat, and emit fewer greenhouse gases – so there’s good reason to start adjusting mindsets to bring bugs onto the menu. They’re even tasty and more nutritional too. Since they’re already eaten in 80% of countries around the world, and the global menu includes about 1,400 insect species, there are lots to choose from. Maybe it wouldn’t even be too much of a stretch for the many Westerners who already enjoy eating shrimp (which are arthropods, just like insects, spiders, and millipedes).
But some experts think that pretty soon it won’t really matter whether we want to eat bugs or not because by 2020 we won’t have the privilege of choice – as the global human population increases, so will the price of conventional meat, and insects will be the most affordable, and sustainable, source of animal meat. With insects being high in protein and fat, low in cholesterol, and having important vitamins and minerals, the switch would likely lead to a healthier diet too (and represent a high calorie source for people in poverty-stricken areas).
Although Westerners may have had little exposure to insects as a food source, people in other countries have long enjoyed bugs as a normal part of their diet. Here are just a few examples: Ants are eaten in Africa and Australia, while locusts and beetles are fried in Thailand, and people in China enjoy consuming silkworm pupae. In fact, it’s even been proposed that silkworms should be used in long-term space flights as a renewable food source for animal protein — they’re a much better option than traditional animal protein sources like chicken or fish.
If you want to see how insects suit your palate, there are several places you can order wax worms, crickets, mealworms, and many other insects from, such as Hotlix. You could even try growing your own small-scale bug farm. But it’s recommended not to eat insects from the wild since you don’t know if they’ve been exposed to pesticides, other toxins, or diseases.
So next time you see a bug and have the impulse to squish it, you may want to instead start mentally training yourself to see it as a potential snack!
For further reading:
- Teisha J. Rowland’s book Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Animals Both Commonplace and Bizarre
- Aaron T. Dossey’s article “Why Insects Should Be in Your Diet” in The Scientist
- Rebecca Smithers’ article “Insects will be important part of UK diet by 2020, says scientist” in The Guardian
- Nina Bai’s article “Yum! Silkworms Could Be the Next Astronaut Food” in Discover’s “Discoblog”
- Daniella Martin’s article “Where to Get Bugs” in Girl Meets Bug
- Thomas J. Elpel’s’s article “The Food Insects Newsletter”
- Michaeleen Douclieff’s article “Grow Your Own Locust Kit Could Someday Help Feed African Refugees” in NPR