A Bug Eater’s Guide to Ingesting Insects

Photo by sunchild_dd | flickr.com

So after two articles, it is clear that entomophagy could be used for its environmental benefits and that it is not too farfetched to believe that people would actually eat insects. I think the final piece of the puzzle in this eco-solution is how we can produce insects that are both edible and practical for human consumption.

To answer this question, I will first look at the theory involved and use the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2010 report titled Forest Insects as food: humans bite back as a source.

In the UN’s report, insects are made analogous to mushrooms - some insects are perfectly safe and edible, whereas others are incredibly poisonous and unpalatable. Consequently, human mortality as a result of entomophagy is a possibility, although it is quite rare. Like any other meat, insects require special storage, transportation and preparation techniques to ensure that they remain safe for consumption. Additionally, similar to certain livestock and produce, there are conditional aspects to eating insects. Depending on the environmental factors and chemicals that insects have been exposed to, edible bugs can turn into harmful ones for humans. Once all of the above mentioned factors have been taken into consideration, then an insect can be harvested for human consumption. And currently, the outlook of this is quite promising, as the UN’s report dictates that there are over 1,600 edible species of insects being eaten worldwide.

In looking at the second part of the question, the UN has identified three main strategies for producing edible insects that are used worldwide. The first is to treat insects as “minigame” where they are caught and consumed like other game animals. This involves the usual government regulation including designated hunting regions, seasons and permits. The second strategy is a hybrid between minigame and controlled cultivation. In this strategy, insects have their population growth facilitated in wild habitats for the purposes of harvesting for human consumption. The final strategy is to raise insects like any other livestock in controlled locations and conditions.

All three strategies come with their own pros and cons, each being more suitable for certain species of insects. In terms of producing insects for human consumption, the UN report believes that caterpillars have highest promise for mass cultivation due to their relatively immobile nature and their efficient transformation of plant biomass into animal biomass. Other insects with great promise include termites (due to their strong reproductive capacity) and insects that can co-exist off the same food source, such as the castor bean borer and silkworm.

In the end, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is confident that there are clear methods for the safe and sustainable production of insects for human consumption. As long as the factors discussed above are taken into consideration, bugs can be used as an eco-friendly food source around the world (as evidenced by the fact that this is already taking place in many, many countries).

Now, what about some concrete examples of insects being raised for human consumption? And how about the future of entomophagy as an eco-solution? Once again, you’ll have to check out my next post!