Entomophagy

Ever since I was a kid I was never afraid to eat unusual things. I remember working in the fields on my parents’ farm and randomly shoving weed leaves in my mouth. Unsurprisingly I discovered most plants weren’t fit to eat. Then as I got older I started sampling insects. I tried crickets (not bad) and lady beetles (not good) as well as the flies and mosquitoes that occasionally flew into my mouth (not good at all). As an adult I’ve had no qualms about trying squid, snails, and other interesting things.

My interest in insects in particular escalated when I studied entomology as an undergrad. My professor and I sometimes talked about entomophagy:  The use of insects as food.

Humans of various cultures have eaten insects for thousands of years, and with good reason. Insects are protein-rich, low in fat, and contain many vitamins and minerals. They’re widespread and common, making up about 58% of all macroscopic species on earth. They breed rapidly, so there’s no shortage of them. They’re also efficient: Cattle only convert about 10% of their feed to meat, but insects convert about 90%. Insects are therefore far more ecologically-friendly than livestock, producing less waste and generating more food. With the global human population continuing to skyrocket and current agricultural production unable to meet demand, insects could be instrumental in combating widespread hunger and famine.

There seems to be increasing interest in entomophagy among Americans. In the last few months I’ve seen a number of media reports on the practice, including one recent article from Slate. There are also new companies attempting to capitalize on this interest. Last week I helped fund a Kickstarter campaign for Chapul, an upstart that makes energy bars based on cricket flour. I should be getting my first case of bars from them soon, and I’m pretty excited.

I can see how biting down on a crunchy cicada or fat juicy grub could be unpleasant to most people.  Grinding insects into flour masks their nature and makes them relatively unremarkable, and probably far more palatable. For this reason I think Chapul has the right idea, and I can see food based on cricket (or other insect) flour gaining some popularity.

While entomophagy in developed countries is still only a curiosity among the adventurous, it seems inevitable that it will become common out of necessity. There’s only so much land and so much livestock to feed an increasing number of people. As demand for food continues to outstrip production, prices for inefficient mammal and bird meat can only go up. At some point nutritious, affordable, and plentiful insect meat is bound to become a staple for most people.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Culture, Entomology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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