Is Eating Insects the Future of Sustainability?
By Mark Killick Functional Nutritional Therapist
A recent report by the world’s leading scientists on climate change has warned that we have only about twelve years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C. Rising that much isn’t good, but anything above that could spell disaster. Although there are some obvious measures we could take to avoid this, including the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, other areas also need to be addressed.
Alternative food sources
Feeding the world’s population has a massive impact on greenhouse gases and our current industrialised food system is at risk of crossing ‘environmental limits’. The number of people living on planet Earth is going to hit nine billion people by 2,050 and to feed all those hungry mouths we’ll need to produce almost twice as much food as we do now.
We already use around 70% of agricultural land to raise livestock; we already overfish our oceans; and climate change is already threatening crop production. But there is one possible solution to this seemingly impossible puzzle – INSECTS!
Although there is a ‘disgust factor’ associated with eating insects in the West, people have been eating them for tens of thousands of years and it used to be a staple food for our caveman ancestors. Even today over two billion people regularly eat them as part of their diet – and there are over 1,900 edible species.
I couldn’t possibly!
Although you may find entomophagy (the consumption of insects) disgusting, you might be surprised to know that you already eat them – regularly. Bits of insects often make their way into food production lines, and when those grapes are pressed to make the glass of wine you enjoy, rest assured that there are mushed up insects in there with the grape juice.
Eating bugs is green
So why is the consumption of insects more environmentally friendly? Because insects are cold-blooded and are extremely efficient at converting feed into protein; they don’t need food to create heat. A cow uses a massive 20 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of protein whereas one kilogram of protein from insects takes 1.7kg feed. That’s why less land is needed to feed insects than for livestock.
Less land for feeding cattle also means a reduction in irrigation and pesticide use. It would also save water as it takes 1,500 litres to produce one kilogram of cattle protein: the same amount of insect protein needs only one litre.
Another significant plus is that insects reproduce far more quickly than livestock animals, one locust, for example, producing 200 more within six weeks. And with shorter life spans they grow quickly and can be farmed in large quantities and in small areas.
Insects also produce a fraction of greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia compared with other livestock, especially cattle. Furthermore, they consume animal waste or plants that people and livestock cannot eat, so they don’t compete with the human food supply and can even help reduce environmental contamination.
Insects are super healthy
From a nutritional point of view, insects are extremely healthy. They have a high protein content comparable to meat and fish and contain all the essential amino acids that we should consume in our diet. One species of termite is as much as 64% protein.
Insects are also rich in essential fatty acids; mealworms contain as much omega-3 as fish and more than beef or pork. Bugs, especially locusts, are packed with iron and calcium, and they contain energy giving B vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, which can be low in a vegetarian or vegan diet. What’s more, insects are surprisingly high in fibre, something that many Western diets lack.
The future of insects as food
I regularly consume insects as part of my diet and recommend them as part of any nutritious and healthy diet to my clients. Bear Grylls is about to launch his Insect Energy Bar made with buffalo worm flour at the Food Matters Live exhibition next month, and many insect food companies are springing up in the UK and Europe to cater for the demand.
When you get over the ‘disgust factor’, insects are surprisingly tasty. Don’t forget that shrimps and prawns were once considered a ‘poor man’s food’, and insects are not too dissimilar in taste and texture. Termites have a pleasant minty flavour, while sago grubs that are eaten across Southeast Asia taste like bacon. Many grubs taste just like chicken.
With the look of insects putting off many consumers, the industry is packaging these tasty treats as protein powders for use in smoothies or cake-baking – or producing more familiar and palatable foods with insects such as burgers and pasta.
Several restaurants are starting to feature insects on their menu. The London eatery, Archipelago, serves dishes called Love Bug Salad and Bushman’s Cavi-err, a dish of caramelised mealworms served on blinis with coconut cream and vodka jelly!
The clock is ticking
People talk about our human race destroying the planet, but the harsh reality is that we are just destroying ourselves. If we don’t address climate change and the resulting environment brings about the demise of homo sapiens, Mother Earth will continue to exist. At that point, maybe insects could go on to rule the planet. On the other hand, eating them might just save us!
PICTURE: Merci Mercado
Presentation is key. Cochineal used to be a main ingredient in lipsticks. Yet no-one would have bought them if they’d been packaged with insect imagery.
Merci-Mercado is a stunningly beautiful website selling edible insect products set up by 4 entrepreneurs in the US. They say:
“One of the reasons we started working with insects, is that they have been consumed for centuries. They have been somewhat forgotten in recent times and needed to be “rescued” so that we can once again find them in our kitchens. Aside from being delicious, they represent a solution to the environmental troubles and lack of food in the world.”
Archipelago is a restaurant in London specialising in gourmet meals using unusual ingredients, making exotic dining into an aesthetic experience.
• Find out more at: www.archipelago-restaurant.co.uk and at www.mercimercado.com
• For one of Mark’s favourite recipes using insect flour head to our Food section here.
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