Entomophagy: The economic and environmental perspective.

Image by Mark Robinson | flickr.com

Image by Mark Robinson | flickr.com

Why do we not eat insects? Are they unhealthy, tasteless, or unwholesome? Definitely NOT! There is only one single reason behind why we don't eat insects, and that is that we think insects are disgusting. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization published a report in 2013 addressing the practice and future prospects of entomophagy. According to the report, eating insects is considered part of the traditional diet for at least 2 billion people, and that there are more than 1900 species of insects used as food around the world.

A Western diet is considered a meat-heavy diet. It is characterized by a high intake of red meat, which is the major source of protein in the Western world. The increasing demand for meat in developed countries as well as a similar recent demand in developing countries is one of the many challenges facing the food security issue. Taking into account the increasing population and the high economic growth in many developing countries, the demand for meat will increase more and more as these countries move toward a more Western diet. The emerging question at this stage becomes whether it would be possible to introduce insects as a protein source to non-insect consuming countries, and what would be the economic and environmental implications of doing so.

I believe that the idea of eating insects sounds very unacceptable for many non-insect consumers, but I also believe this idea is not impossible. In fact, everybody eats insects every single day by accident or in their packed and processed food. A study shows that on average each person consumes 453 to 907 grams of insects a year. This is not surprising, especially when we know that insects are allowed by government food agencies in different countries. For instance, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in the United States has a specific guideline about the percentage of the allowable amount of insects that can be in different types of food. The idea I am trying to clarify is that insects already exist in our daily diet; we simply don't know they are there and so we happily eat them. Insect processing is the key to making them more palatable and acceptable. Cricket flour is one of the innovative ideas that made eating crickets acceptable. Such a product is available in different markets and it can be purchased online. Another upcoming and promising idea is the bug burger. The technology to produce this burger already exists; good marketing would be the key to introducing it into the market.

Economically, raising insects is cheap in terms of technology and investment needed to produce them compared to that of livestock. It is takes up less land and consumes less water as well. Perhaps this is a promising solution for feeding the increasing number of people sustainably. Environmentally, insects are a more sustainable source of food than livestock. Livestock production accounts for at least 51% of the total global gas emissions.  Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases, which make cultivating them an environmentally friendly option.

Having food made of insects in the market is a matter of time. A huge marketing effort would be needed to make this food acceptable, especially to those in the Western world. I believe that within twenty years, the bug burger, cricket flour protein bars, and other insect meals could be a normal and acceptable part of our daily diet.

This article was originally posted via Sustainable Collective, which has since joined forces with The Starfish Canada.