Green food of the future – Insects
It’s called Entomophagy (eating insects) and it’s practiced around the world – mostly in developing countries where food production and distribution lags behind demand from growing populations. Most western cultures shun insects as a food source except as novelty items. However with a growing worldwide food shortage, insects may just be the “green” food of the future (article here from WSJ).
At the London restaurant Archipelago, diners can order the $11 Baby Bee Brulee: a creamy custard topped with a crunchy little bee. In New York, the Mexican restaurant Toloache offers $11 chapulines tacos: two tacos stuffed with Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers.
Could beetles, dragonfly larvae and water bug caviar be the meat of the future? As the global population booms and demand strains the world’s supply of meat, there’s a growing need for alternate animal proteins. Insects are high in protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc, and they’re low in fat. Insects are easier to raise than livestock, and they produce less waste. Insects are abundant. Of all the known animal species, 80% walk on six legs; over 1,000 edible species have been identified. And the taste? It’s often described as “nutty.”
The vast majority of the developing world already eats insects. In Laos and Thailand, weaver-ant pupae are a highly prized and nutritious delicacy. They are prepared with shallots, lettuce, chilies, lime and spices and served with sticky rice. Further back in history, the ancient Romans considered beetle larvae to be gourmet fare, and the Old Testament mentions eating crickets and grasshoppers. In the 20th century, the Japanese emperor Hirohito’s favorite meal was a mixture of cooked rice, canned wasps (including larvae, pupae and adults), soy sauce and sugar.
Insects are easy to raise (hell, they’re everywhere), are less wasteful, and provide a great source of low-fat protein. What’s not to like here?
Meanwhile, our food needs are on the rise. The human population is expected to grow from six billion in 2000 to nine billion in 2050. Meat production is expected to double in the same period, as demand grows from rising wealth. Pastures and fodder already use up 70% of all agricultural land, so increasing livestock production would require expanding agricultural acreage at the expense of rain forests and other natural lands. Officials at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently predicted that beef could become an extreme luxury item by 2050, like caviar, due to rising production costs.
Raising insects for food would avoid many of the problems associated with livestock. For instance, swine and humans are similar enough that they can share many diseases. Such co-infection can yield new disease strains that are lethal to humans, as happened during a swine fever outbreak in the Netherlands in the late 1990s. Because insects are so different from us, such risks are accordingly lower.
Insects are also cold-blooded, so they don’t need as much feed as animals like pigs and cows, which consume more energy to maintain their body temperatures. Ten pounds of feed yields one pound of beef, three pounds of pork, five pounds of chicken and up to six pounds of insect meat.
Insects produce less waste, too. The proportion of livestock that is not edible after processing is 30% for pork, 35% for chicken, 45% for beef and 65% for lamb. By contrast, only 20% of a cricket is inedible.
Has anyone told Mrs. dear comrade leader about this yet? It’s perfect for her “Let’s Move” war on obesity! We could start forcing fast food joints to sell “cricketburgers,” mealworm fries, and dung beetle tacos – healthy, nutritious, and low-fat. The perfect “green” food! Might be a tough sell with kids, though.
Though it is true that intentionally eating insects is common only in developing countries, everyone already eats some amount of insects. The average person consumes about a pound of insects per year, mostly mixed into other foods. In the U.S., most processed foods contain small amounts of insects, within limits set by the Food and Drug Administration. For chocolate, the FDA limit is 60 insect fragments per 100 grams. Peanut butter can have up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams, and fruit juice can have five fruit-fly eggs and one or two larvae per 250 milliliters (just over a cup). We also use many insect products to dye our foods, such as the red dye cochineal in imitation crab sticks, Campari and candies. So we’re already some of the way there in making six-legged creatures a regular part of our diet.
Not long ago, foods like kiwis and sushi weren’t widely known or available. It is quite likely that in 2020 we will look back in surprise at the era when our menus didn’t include locusts, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, crickets and other insect delights.
Who knows? Maybe by 2020 we’ll be too poor to eat anything but insects?