Delicacy or Distaste: Are Insects the Food of the Future?

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Thinking of consuming an insect may make Westerners cringe but in other areas of the world it is commonplace to eat insects as both a delicacy and a source of protein. Although the future of protein may not look exactly like a Survivor food eating challenge, the appearance of various insects as part of a daily diet is not out of the picture. Insects offer an alternative source of protein with a lower fat content than traditional meats, fewer calories, and a lower feed-to-meat ratio. All of this implies that insects could very well be an economical and eco-friendly option to traditional meats.

Sustainability

The Western world has already seen a rise in dietary specialities ranging from gluten-free products to veganism. Many of these self-imposed restrictions are in an effort to know where one’s food comes from or to oppose the often harmful meat industry. This interest in sustainability is on the rise as the population on Earth continues to grow. In only a few years an additional two billion people will live on the planet and the current food supply will not be able to feed everyone. Thus, insect consumption has become a more realistic protein option for nourishing the growing population. Economists have predicted that by 2050 traditional meat will be treated as a luxury product and beef may be likened to caviar (Dicke & Huis). If this occurs, traditional meat will be unattainable to not only those in developing countries but also to the impoverished living in many developed Western countries. To combat this phenomenon, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released a report explaining that insects may be part of the answer to food sustainability.

The reason that insects are looked at as a sustainable food source is due to their nutritional content; they contain numerous healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, as well a protein serving of 70 grams per cup that is proportionate to beef. They also require little land and water to produce meaning that by investing in crickets and other insects as an alternative food source, it would allow us to cut down on land allocated to livestock and reduce greenhouse gasses. For insects to become a staple in the Western world however, a change in perception is required to eradicate the cultural taboos associated with insects. In other parts of the world insects are consumed for their taste and not because they are the only option. It was not long ago that consuming raw fish as with sushi was considered abhorrent and now it is a popular cuisine in many developed countries. As various societies take steps towards ensuring a more sustainable source of protein for future years and work on diminishing disapproval, the appearance of insects in diets will likely increase.

Cricket Flour

Insects have made their way back into top restaurant Noma’s plates in Copenhagen inciting the sentiment that eating insects is part of a trend trend. However, as top restaurants are pioneering in insect consumption as a delicacy, the use of cricket flower in other goods has yet to enter the mainstream consumption market. The Western world may not be ready and may never fully accept eating a cricket roasted on a kebab, but many companies are taking steps to making cricket protein accessible to anyone. This is accomplished by eliminating the appearance and texture of crickets and instead by roasting and grinding them into a flour.

In 2014 American company Chapul pitched their high protein bars made from cricket flours to the panel on reality TV show Shark Tank. Mark Cuban decided to invest in this innovative food product and with the help of the show, has been able to show millions of Western families that consuming insects does not have to involve a cringe factor. Many other companies are now using cricket flour in baked goods like cookies, brownies, and muffins. This endeavour provides a high protein product in a form that goes undetected. The addition of cricket flour has proven that consuming insects need not be the spectacle it is on Fear Factor and can instead gradually infiltrate “normal” lifestyles.

Developing World

While many developing countries already consume insects as part of their diet, efforts are being made to feed less developed and malnourished populations. Currently approximately three million children are dying per year due to malnutrition; insects could procure a solution. Demand for animal products is on the rise in low and middle-income countries but unfortunately production of livestock is unable to keep up with the demand. This results in a population that may strive to acquire protein from alternative sources. The proposition is of course insects, which will provide protein in addition to mitigating environmental damage. By switching to an insect heavy diet the feed previously used to nourish livestock will be freed up and can be offered to other populations. Therefore, not only are insects a possibility for solving aspects of malnutrition but they will also increase other agricultural options.

The Democratic Republic of Congo in conjunction with the United Nations are hoping to capitalize on insect consumption by creating a new program that will promote their cultivation. This program would result in lowered prices, increased availability, and jobs. Previously, insects were collected by harvesting from trees and digging through soil. With the new initiative insects could be farmed and would avoid the seasonal limitations currently imposed on various species. This would aid in the supply struggle endured by traditional meat and would provide for a growing population.  

Criticism

A few studies argue that crickets are not as sustainable as perceived. The argument stems from the perception that insects can be raised on manure and compost. However, a study conducted by Mark Lundy and Michael P. Parrella from the University of California shows that crickets raised on this kind of feed do not have as high a protein count than if they were raised on a feed similar to that of poultry. Despite these facts, the authors do not rule out insects as a possible alternative and state that more research is needed to prove that insects are the future of food. Additionally, due to limited production of insects intended for Western consumption, they are priced similarly to caviar. Consequently, despite being paraded as an economical and environmental solution the insect revolution will require large scale production to cut costs.

Theoretically if the Western world can overcome the aversion to insect consumption, a new market for their consumption can certainly form. This in part can lead to more investment opportunities and the ability for expressed sustainability claims to be achieved on a global scale. The insect industry depends on acceptance into the mainstream so that individual companies can grow products with a demand-rich market for commodities, such as cricket flour. Overall, crickets among other insects may be the ideal future food but it is not a simple route to achieve a global food revolution.

Written By:

Michayla Wolfe


Works Cited: 

Dicke, Marcel, and Arnold Van Huis. “The Six-Legged Meat of the Future.”WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 19 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703293204576106072340020728>.

Howard, Emma. “Insects Should Be Part of a Sustainable Diet in Future, Says Report.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/05/eating-insects-should-part-sustainable-diet-future-report>.

Huis, Arnold Van, Joost Van Itterbeeck, Harmke Klunder, Esther Mertens, Afton Halloran, Giulia Muir, and Paul Vantomme. “Molecular Genetic Characterization of Animal Genetic Resources. FAO Animal Production and Health Guidelines. No. 9. FAO. Published in 2011, 85 Pp. ISBN: 978-92-5-107032-1. Available at Http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2413e/i2413e00.pdf.” Animal Genetic Resources/Ressources Génétiques Animales/Recursos Genéticos Animales Anim. Genet. Resour. 49 (2011): 114+. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Lundy, Mark E., and Michael P. Parrella. “Shaping Our Food – an Overview of Crop and Livestock Breeding.” Animal Genetic Resources/Ressources Génétiques Animales/Recursos Genéticos Animales Anim. Genet. Resour. 55 (2014). PLOS One. PLOS One, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118785#abstract0>.

Miller, Megan. “Are Insects the Future of Food? | Megan Miller | TEDxManhattan.” YouTube. TEDx Talks, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwC4WRKi5QY>.

Mills, Eliza. “How Bug Farming Is Changing the Food Economy.” Marketplace. American Public Media, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

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