Also locusts, mealy bugs, and mopane worms (the larvae of a southern African moth) — among many others. Humans have probably eaten bugs for as long as our species has existed — or even longer, since modern apes and other primates eat them with gusto, and primates may be descended from early insectivores. The Bible names locusts as kosher for the ancient Israelites. And in many parts of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania various insects are eagerly enjoyed to this day.
From the point of view of ending hunger, the eating of insects could be enormously important. For one thing, there are an awful lot of them, and they breed fast and easily and copiously. Also, they’re small, so they can be grown in relatively small spaces, making them great for urban agriculture as well as rural farms and hunting wild ones. Nor is such confinement cruel to them as it is for larger creatures like fish, poultry, and mammals. Furthermore, insects’ efficiency in turning feed into food is excellent: as high as that of chickens and greater than fish. They can be raised with very little water, far less than any other food animal. And there are hundreds of insect species that are listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as edible — some for every part of the world.
Insects are also highly nutritious. They are high enough in protein to serve as a substitute for other kinds of meat, including being high in lysine which makes them a good complement for grains. They are also a good source of useful carbohydrate, unsaturated fats including valuable omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins including B-12, and many minerals including iron and calcium.
And as suggested above, people who do eat various kinds of insects find them delicious.
So what’s not to love? — Besides the ick factor for those of use who were not introduced to these delicacies as children…
Europeans and non-indigenous people of North America have no cultural history of eating insects, and unfortunately most of us (including this writer, sorry) are therefore grossed out by the idea. Several start-up enterprises here are therefore planning to grind crickets into flour which can be used as an ingredient in, for example, energy bars: you could then eat them without thinking about what’s in the food. You also may or may not want to reflect on the fact that the USDA permits a certain amount of insect parts in canned and processed foods, which means that pretty much all of us have already eaten insect bits without knowing it — and it hasn’t hurt us a bit.
Still, for many of us there’s a pretty big ick factor.
This should not discourage us from trying to get over it, or at least to consider overlooking the advent of insect flour as a non-obvious ingredient in processed foods. And it certainly should not stop efforts to encourage the scaling up of the growing and eating of insects in parts of the world where this is enjoyed, and where hunger is a real problem. For though until now most insect-eating has involved catching them in the wild or very small-scale endeavors, the farming of many kinds of insects is looking to be very feasible indeed. So as the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, it would be easy enough for urban insect-growers to do much towards feeding people a locally-grown nutritious meat-like food that they already like and would choose as a preference.
If one is already a vegetarian, one can point out that insects are animals, and that one does not eat them for that reason (it’s too much to hope that people will become vegetarian solely in order to avoid eating bugs). For everyone else, edible insects can be a real part of the solution to world hunger, and should not be overlooked.
Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley