Who is eating bugs anyways?
To wrap up my discussion on entomophagy, I thought I would describe some actual examples of sustainable bug eating from around the world. To keep things short and sweet, I’ve chosen a historical example from Japan and a trial, experimental example from Australia. Chowing down on insects happens every day on a worldwide basis and these examples show how it’s not too inconceivable for entomophagy to become common place in North America in the near future.
Two species of Vespula wasps are collected, raised and eaten in Japan. The main technique for harvesting these wasps is through the use of meat balls. Gatherers will bait the wasps with meat balls that have small ribbons attached so that when a worker wasp carries a meat ball back to its nest, it will be easily traceable. The wasp gatherers trace the ribbons from moved meat balls back to wasp nests and sedate the wasps inside using smoke (similar to a beekeeper’s methods). Once the wasps have been sufficiently sedated, the nests are dug out and the wasps are harvested for consumption. The larvae are extracted from the nests, cooked with soy sauce and other seasonings and served with rice. These wasps are relatively quite expensive with one kilogram of nest fetching approximately US $100 at local markets in Japan. Consequently, some families choose to raise Vespula in homemade wooden hive boxes. While this process is more efficient because it protects the wasps from both environmental and predatory threats, it is also more labour intensive for those involved.
In 2006, the Australian Government published a research study on the feasibility of commercializing the Witchetty grubs. Due to the fact these grubs are a delicacy with some of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples, the Australia government tested a mock grub production facility for its research. The production facility consisted of a small 10 foot by 20 foot, shack like structure similar to that of an elementary school portable. The facility had multiple shelving units on the inside for both egg harvesting from wood moths (the adult form of Withcetty grubs) and Witchetty grub pupae production. Each shack also had its own temperature, humidity and air flow controls in order to establish the proper climate for the insects. A consistent wood chip based diet made the trees the grubs were harvested from was used as the feed. Using the facilities described above, researchers were able to produce roughly 10,000 grubs per shack per month. These production numbers have legitimate economic viability considering that the estimated trading prices of the grubs within Australia are $5 per grub domestically and $8 per grub internationally. After completing this study, the Australian government has recommended that further investigation be done on creating a sustainable synthetic diet for the grubs, whether or not other insects with shorter life cycles (and therefore potentially greater economic viability) can be used and finally, a fully fledged business analysis of the commercialization of Witchetty grubs.
So there you have it, two real world examples of bug eating. After looking at the concept of entomophagy, I think that it does have real potential as an eco-solution to our traditional sources of meat in North America. That being said, I appreciate that the concept is in development. With studies only in the initial stages in countries who are actively looking to adopt insect eating (ex: Australia), I still think it will be at least decade until we see this concept gain attention in North America. Until then, I just encourage you to be open-minded to tasting a few bugs in your travels and go from there. I know I will. Bug appétit!
For the rest of Graydon's discussion on bug eating: