Crickets, buffalo worms, grasshoppers, …
You have seen them in gardens, parks, whilst camping or doing outdoor sports. How about inside of your house, on the table in your dining room? You might try to brush them away or, more cruelly, kill them. However, they may be served as your main dish in the near future.
Entomophagy is a term for insects eating and has been of recent interest for ecologists and food security researchers. I am going to explain what insects have to offer as edible food items as well as barriers to eating them.
Because of the global population growth, westernised eating habits and income improvement, food, especially meat, consumption is increased. However, the land availability for food production is limited, and if continued to be, over cultivation will lead environmental disruption. As a solution to the food shortage, insects can be used as substitute protein source replacing meat and fish. They are high in protein, fat acids, vitamins, fibre and minerals, insects not only become a super food for high- or middle-income class but also have a high potential to help people suffering from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in poverty areas.
Also, insects require fewer resources, such as feed, water and land, to be reared than livestock and fish. For example, cows need 5.9 times of feed and 22,000 times of water compared to crickets to produce the same amount of protein sources. Another environmental benefit of insect farming is that it produces less greenhouse gas (GHG) than livestock. A research showed that livestock’s GHG emission was more than 14% of the total in 2004.
Thus, I assume insect rearing is much more friendly to global eco-system than animal farming. Moreover, the insect business seems to be an alternative source of income for low-income people since it requires a small investment to start.
The insect food market already exists, a prime example is Thailand, and the market is expanding to the whole world including developed countries. Therefore, I believe a trend of insect eating is one its way.
However, popularising insect eating still has several issues listed below.
Some people think eating insects is ethically wrong because it is equal to robbing an insect’s life, a similar reason to be a vegetarian. I have no right to change their faith. However, I suspect some people might not weight an insect’s life as heavy as a bird’s or mammal’s, especially if they have killed bugs in their room because they bothered or scared them.
Hygienic and Allergic Issues
Insects live in nature. We don’t know what they went through during their life, people might think they are dirty and carry pathogens. Therefore, it is important that they are properly washed, processed and have strict hygiene safety standards. Insect meal providers should disclose information about how they treated their products to the public.
Also, insects might cause allergy. It has not been proved yet, but some researchers say, people who are allergic to seafood, might have an allergy to insects too. Hence, companies and promoters of entomophagy should call this to the consumers’ to make sure consumers are informed. In addition, further research should be taken to guarantee the safety of edible insects.
The hardest challenge is overturning insects’ negative image. As I mentioned at the beginning, many people think eating insects is disgusting. Moreover, entomophagy was considered as a habit of the lower class in the past. Can those images be changed? I framed a hypothesis that people can eat, or at least try, insects if they don’t see insect’s shape, and I conducted my experiment as written in below.
∼ Experiment ∼
For my experiment, I prepared Eat Grub Bar: Taster Pack from Grub, edible insects offering a company in the UK. I chose these cricket bars because crickets are processed into powder. Another reason was that Grub offered a trial set with a reasonable price (A set of 4 bars was £6.99, and a shipping fee was £1.89). Then, I shared them with my friends. For me, it was edible and quite nice (honestly the sweeter, the better), and some friends reacted positively as well. Nevertheless, others seemed too scared to try them. Some who did try felt it made them unwell and wanted a cup of water to wash their mouth. As a result of my small research, disguises the insect might not be enough to let people eat insects as their habit. I would consider people might accept if the food tastes nice. My next experiment will be if the improved taste can overcome the visual preconceptions.
In addition to a reflection above, I found out price of insects could be another issue of the insect meal. When I looked for a cricket bar to try, I felt insects was slightly more expensive than other protein sources if I compared Edible insects series offered by Grub with the popular fresh meat line-up provided Tesco online the price per kilogram. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the reference comparing prices by protein contain base.) Hence, insect food consumers would be limited to people with sufficient money or who concern about food shortage. People in poverty would not be able to afford these insects. Therefore, I would suggest balancing the price to improve accessibility and allowing market profitability by promoting governmental financial support to insect foods and establishing local business in low-income regions.
I personally think that entomophagy is a good alternative source of proteins due to the perspective of multi-nutrition, eco-friendliness, and business expectation. Despite the fact, that it faces several challenges, like ethics, hygiene and a negative image. Therefore, more promotion with spreading the idea and the right knowledge of entomophagy will help insects to be a more popular meal.