Eat Bugs, Everyone’s Doing It!

girl eat bug

Americans pride themselves on being on the cutting edge of science and new trends, but in the case of ancestral nutrition North America and Europe are way behind the times.  As a matter of fact, 80% of the world population is ahead of us when it comes to eating what many consider to be, now and throughout history, the most nutritious food on the planet: insects.

 A United Nations report, “Edible insects, future prospects for food and security”, which was released in 2013, states that the benefits of getting back to our ancestral roots of eating bugs could be the answer to feeding the over populated human race.  Not only as food for humans directly, but also indirectly as feedstock for our animals.  They are even being considered as food for astronauts. One small insect for man, one big cockroach for mankind.

Are Insects the future of food?

Among the millions of species of insects there are thousands of these delectables that are edible.  The common cricket, chirping outside your window at night, is 80% edible. Furthermore,  it is twice as efficient as a chicken, and 12 times more efficient than cattle, in turning it’s feed into our food.  Even though insects are abundant  in nature,  there is a growing trend to “farm raise” them.  Maybe instead of using insecticides to kill them we should be using human/animal/organic waste to grow them!  These omnipresent, nutritious, 6 legged arthropods emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs.  Plus, they require less land and water to cultivate.  Could this be the answer to sustainably feeding the world?  Many entomophagists believe so.  Check out this chart that shows the high food conversion efficiency of insects:
insects as food production
Nutritionally, edible insects are high in fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  As a matter of fact, the Omega-3 content of mealworms is comparable with that of fish.  Of course, this nutrient content varies according to the species and their age, habitat, and diet. There are a few innovative companies paving the way for the mass production of insects as food, such as food bars like Chapul and Exo to China’s maggot factory.  Let’s hope that when food scientists and agriculturists begin to harvest insects on a large scale (hey, we have to feed the over populated world somehow), that they won’t mess with nature and produce insects that are modern day frankenbugs, breeding them into some hugely distorted variation of their former selves.
We can only hope that we have learned from our current mass farming, big agra, CAFO (confined animal feedlot operation) mistakes. A sick, unhealthy, unhappy insect won’t produce a nutritious insect.  This leads us to ask the question, “Do insects deserve to be treated humanely?”  Where do we draw the line between animals and insects?  I can’t help but wonder what the vegetarians and vegans will have to say about all of this small organism consumption, as they are consuming mass quantities of bugs themselves, albeit very small ones.
So why aren’t North Americans embracing this 300 million year old food source?  For the answer we need to address the elephant (or the giant cock roach), in the room.  Simply put, we view insects as filthy pests, not food.  Despite the fact that we are eating insects all the time, we are still in denial about it.  This may be a hard and squirmy pill to swallow, but the truth is, insects are desirable cuisine.  In Thailand insects fetch more money than chicken or pork. In Cambodia fried tarantula is a delicacy.
Are you still afraid insects are unclean and could make you sick?  According to this FAO report “no significant health problems have arisen from the consumption of edible insects”.  Knowing now that insects are healthy and nutritious, it may still be difficult to look at this list of the most commonly eaten insects, and imagine hearing them crunch in your mouth instead of underfoot:
* beetles (Coleoptera) 31 percent of insects eaten

* caterpillars (Lepidoptera) 18 percent

* bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera) 14 percent

* grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (Orthoptera) 13 percent

* cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs (Hemiptera) 10 percent

* termites (Isoptera) 3 percent

* dragonflies (Odonata) 3 percent

* flies (Diptera) 2 percent

* other orders 5 percent.


It’s hard to believe that the most ancient of foods, the food that was consumed by our ancestors for many thousands of years, could seem so repulsive to us now.  Maybe it is time to for us ‘civilized’ Americans to take a step backwards and learn to embrace the wisdom of our elders, and the wisdom of the billions of people on this planet that laugh at our aversion to natures most abundant and nutritious food source.  You first!

Check out this informative video TED presentation that may help convince you to take a bite on the wild side:


For more information on eating insects check out this Food Insect Newsletter, or read Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects, or The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Revised: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin