Think you might be hearing an ad like that anytime soon?
You might be, if the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has its way. The organization says that with global population skyrocketing to levels that may be unsustainable with current food supplies, insects may be the best bet for a mass source of protein. “Scarcities of agricultural land, water, forest, fishery and biodiversity resources, as well as nutrients and non-renewable energy are foreseen,” the FAO says on its website.
“Replacing half of the meat eaten worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third, substantially reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,” the FAO says.
Two Billion People Can’t Be Wrong
Two billion people worldwide already eat about two thousand different species of insects. Menu items include termites are served with maize porridge, a South American specialty. In, Mexico you can dine on spicy grasshopper tacos. Dragonflies boiled in coconut milk are a delicacy in Indonesia. Before you think this is totally foreign, in the U.S. you can get energy bars made from cricket-based flour at any GNC.
There are some 1800 edible insects by most counts. The FAO points out that insects contain high-quality protein, vitamins and amino acids that are beneficial for humans. They also have what nutrition experts call a high food conversion rate relative to livestock. For example, crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and two times less than pigs and broiler chickens to deliver comparable amounts of protein. Also, they emit (in their waste) fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock, and can be fed with organic waste.
Please Pass the Grasshoppers?
The “yuck factor,” of course, is a major obstacle to the adoption of insects as food for humans. Some have suggested that a more realistic use of insects for food is to use them in place of crop-based food to feed the animals that we eat.
FAO research suggests that if we were to replace all livestock-protein sources and livestock feed with edible bug products, we would be able to reclaim as much as 30 percent of the earth’s land currently used to grow food for animals. This would also cut greenhouse gasses by as much as 18 percent while creating more food for humans. The FAO estimates that feeding livestock with insects would cut the cost of food in most countries by 30 percent.
Of course, feeding traditional livestock with insects doesn’t reduce the environmental and economic impacts of large-scale animal farming and processing, but it is seen as a start to addressing the looming food crisis and to changing public opinion about the notion of insects as a food source.
You can already buy crickets as food for animals in many pet stores. They are used to feed reptiles like lizards and snakes, and to feed large spiders like tarantulas. For this market, cricket farming is nothing new. On the edible insect front, Big Cricket Farms in Youngstown, Ohio opened the country’s first edible-cricket farm in 2014, and there are not some thirty companies that sell bug-based food. Stay tuned!