Eating Insects: Food for Thought

eating mealworms is nutritious

Do you know anyone that eats creepy crawlies?  Probably not if you’re in the Americas (with the exception of Mexico) or in Europe.  Honestly, that’s a damn shame because there are a lot of reasons that we a as a society need to look at insects as a food source now more than ever.  Entomophagy (that’s the word for eating bugs) is not as uncommon as you may think, with an estimated 2 billion people in the world eating bugs as a regular part of their diet.

If anything, we’re weird for not eating bugs.

But where do the advantages of eating insects lie? Time to get into some specifics.

Insects are a great addition nutritionally

 

We’ve talked about nutrition a lot before.  We’ve talked about the benefits of eating tropical fruit, the importance of nutrition in regards to training, and we’ve even talked about gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  Now it’s time to talk about eating insects.

Eating bugs is a great way to load up on protein.  The actual amount of protein varies depending on species, life stage and the insects’ diet, but here are some averages.  Mealworms (not actually worms, but larvae of the darkling beetle) contain an average of 14-25g of protein per 100g fresh weight.  Mexican Chapulines pack a whopping 35-48g of protein per 100g fresh weight.  For perspective, 100 grams of raw beef contains an average of 19-26 grams of protein.  The protein found in insects is generally “complete” meaning it contains full amino acid profiles.  [1]

In addition to the protein benefits, insects contain essential fatty acids, minerals and various micro nutrients.  Particularly, eating bugs will supply you with significantly more iron than beef will [1].  This is quite a find, considering the World Health Organization has identified iron deficiency as the “most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world. [2]”  Another significant benefit of insect consumption is the availability of zinc.  Generally, zinc deficiency is pretty rare, but vegetarians may struggle to get enough of it.  Meat is the primary source for zinc in the diet.  Of course, this knowledge is of no use to vegetarians unless they make an exception for insects [3].

Farming insects is much more sustainable than farming cattle

 

There are some articles out there stating that insects aren’t a very eco-friendly thing to farm after all, but I’ve yet to find one that makes any real sense.  These write-ups typically focus on one type of insect and involve poor choices of what to feed it.  They also typically fail to mention anything about the difference in the amount of water it takes to farm insects vs. beef.

The truth is that insect farming provides a means to benefit both our economy and the environment.  The amount of space no longer needed to farm cattle and the amount of water no longer required would be significant to say the least.

Space

Every year, more and more land is dedicated to the farming of livestock – beef in particular.  Instead of figuring out how to farm in more sustainable ways, humans have been cutting down rain forests and various other wildlands to make space for more cows.  A better long term solution would be, among other things, to dedicate some of this cattle space to insect farming instead.

Insect farming is also much more scale-able.  We farms mealworms in a spare room and generate our own high quality protein.  We tried the same with beef but it didn’t work out so well.  Just kidding.  The point is that insects can be farmed in small spaces whereas there is a sort of  minimum amount of space to get a cattle operation going.

Think about it.  Insects could be mass produced in warehouses all over the place.  This could result in fresh, high quality food sources available to people at reasonable cost.  Bugs don’t need pasture.  They do, however, need a quality food source if they themselves will serve as a high quality food source.

Water use

1800 gallons of water.  That’s the low end of about how much water it takes to produce 1 lb of beef [5].  Some sources I checked out reported as much as 2600 gallons of water.  Cricket farming?  Mealworms?  Well, they hardly require any water whatsoever to farm.  Yes, I’m aware that the insects’food sources and how much water those sources take to produce needs to be addressed, but most insects can live off of a variety of food sources.  Some even thrive off of things that normally end up in the compost pile, such as kitchen scraps.

Feed

I already mentioned that insects can thrive on a number of different food sources, but these sources can even be byproducts of other processes.  For example, I recently read a piece about a cricket farmer who was feeding his insects spent hops from the brewery next door to him.  Keeping in mind that the quality of the insect will be dependent on what said insect eats, there is still enormous potential for insect diets to be solely or largely based off of byproducts such as spent hops.

How to get started eating bugs

The internet is a magical place.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that you can indeed buy some quality bugs there.  A quick web search will turn up a number of cricket and mealworm farms for you to take a gander at.  Be careful to find sources that are intended for human consumption, as many are intended to be consumed by pets such as reptiles.  The difference is that bugs raised for human consumption will be fed whole foods while those raised for reptile feeding may be on much lower quality diets.

Farming your own

You can easily grow enough mealworms to significantly add to your diet in a very small space.  My wife and I ordered some and bred them on oatmeal, carrots and cabbage for a couple of generations before we began harvesting them.  That way, we could be sure that the insects’ diet was quality.  Farming insects is very low cost.  Once you have your containers (sterlite plastic bins work well) all you need to buy regularly is oatmeal and carrots.

Check out this resource to get started farming your own insects for food.

I hope after reading this that you’ll at least consider insects as a food source.  The only reason Americans don’t eat them is because we’ve been conditioned to think bugs are creepy.  Maybe they are a little…but they’re fascinating, nutritious and easy to farm.

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References

http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e06.pdf [1]

http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/ [2]

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/ [3]

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0014445 [4]

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/13/food-water-footprint_n_5952862.html [5]