The United Nations has new weapons to fight hunger, boost nutrition, and reduce pollution, and they might be crawling or flying near you right now: Insects.
In a new report, the Food and Agriculture Organization hailed the likes of grasshoppers, ants, and other members of the insect world as an underutilized food for people, livestock, and pets.
- In its new report and Edible Forest Insects Program, the UN lists three primary goals of a greater insect-based diet: environmental benefits, health benefits, and livelihood/social benefits. Can students think of reasons why eating more insects would benefit these areas?
- Insects have a high feed-to-meat conversion rate. This means it takes very little feed to produce a healthy amount of edible meat. The UN document says insects can convert 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of feed into 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of insect mass. Cattle, on the other hand, are much higher-maintenance: To produce 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef, a cattle must consume 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of feed.
- Insect feed can be produced with little manufacturing. Insects can feed on food waste, human and animal waste, and compost.
- Insects and insect feed require very little water.
- Insect farming requires less land than traditional ranching.
- Insects produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional livestock.
- Health Benefits
- Insects are high in protein, fatty acids, fiber, and nutrients such as iron, zinc, and magnesium.
- Insects are far less likely to transmit disease (such as bird flu, mad cow disease, or E.coli) than traditional meats.
- Livelihood and Social Benefits
- Insect harvesting has a low barrier to entry to new farmers. This means that starting an insect farm does not require the significant financial investment of traditional ranching, where the farmer must purchase equipment, training, land, and animals.
- This low cost makes insect farming available to farmers in developing countries, as well as poor members of local communities. This may improve local nutrition and provide a source of income.
- Insects can be processed relatively easily and safely. This makes the industry more affordable for factory owners and safer for workers.
- Population growth and an increased desire for animal-based protein sources have made the world hunger crisis more acute. Greater acceptance of diets that include insects may help reduce world hunger. According to our encyclopedic entry on food, the “hunger problem will be solved in two ways. First, citizens of all countries need to have the ability to grow or purchase their own food. Second, citizens of all countries need to have responsible diets and spending habits.”
- Read our article “Crispy Critters,” about “The Bug Chef”‘s mission to bring insects to American dinner tables. Would students be willing to try an insect dish? Try the Bug Chef’s delicious “Orthopteran Orzo”!
- According to the UN report, “People in most Western countries view entomophagy [insect-eating] with feelings of disgust,” and that disgust “forms a basis of moral judgement.” What assumptions do students make about people or cultures that eat bugs? Do they think these are moral judgements? Why or why not?
- Would students be more willing to eat insects if they were traveling to a country where insects are a more socially acceptable food? American actress Angelina Jolie, for instance, happily reports that she and her family eat dried crickets “like Doritos” on their frequent trips to Cambodia. “They’re good,” she says. “They are like a potato chip!”
- Would students eat traditional meats, such as poultry, pork, or beef, if they knew these animals had been fed with insect-based feed? Why or why not?
- In addition to a possible food or feed source, insects provide many important and useful functions to society. Can students think of some ways insects benefit our environment, health, and social livelihood?
- Pollination. Bees and other pollinators ensure the health of plants and entire ecosystems. (Students may be more willing to build a bee hotel than eat orthopteran orzo!)
- Medicine. Insects and their products, such as honey, have been an important part of the healing arts for centuries.
- Industry. The billion-dollar silk industry, for instance, depends on the cultivation of silk, a product of the silkworm.
- Everlasting life.