Imagine that you and your family walk into a Chinese restaurant, open the menu and find that the favorite home-cooked dishes are replaced by ‘insect feast’. You feel no appetite and order a bowl of noodles, but flour is made from various insects powder, and even rice is replaced with the termite egg by ‘unknown damn guy’… After reading here, maybe you feel creepy. But, this is not a science-fiction story. Do not think that the scene of Bell Grieds’ swallowing of spiders in the wild is far away from you. In the near future, insects will emerge on people’s tables.
Why insect is promising food
According to data from World Bank, there are still 87 million people in the world who are starving and more than 2 billion people are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies (also known as hidden hunger). It is estimated that the global population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and the current food production needs to double to feed these people. Human is facing many challenges such as lack of land resources, overfishing, climate change and water scarcity. It is almost an impossible task to increase grain output substantially. ‘What to eat tomorrow’ is the immediate problem that needs to be solved.
A report entitled ‘Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security‘ released by FAO found the answer for us. The report notes that there are over 1900 species of human-friendly insects in the world and at least 2 billion people in the world contain insects in traditional foods. Many insects are rich in high-quality protein, vitamins, fiber and minerals, so they can be used as the main source of human food to help to alleviate the current global shortage of food and feed.
A survey published by Finke in 2002 showed that mealworm has more isoforms of isoleucine, leucine, valine, tyrosine and alanine than beef and is rich in palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid and other unsaturated fatty acids with high nutritional value such as linoleic acid. In contrast with beef, eating mealworms is more effective in lowering blood lipids, softening blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, promoting microcirculation. Also it’s helpful to prevent or reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
Also, a report conducted in 2013 analyzed the nutritional content of 236 edible insects. The data show that although different species of insects have different nutrient content and amount, in general, the nutritional value of insects is comparable to that of fish meat. Insects for food can not only satisfy the human demand for calories and good quality protein, but also provide a large amount of monounsaturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids, and are rich in minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and other trace elements such as vitamins B2, B5, H and folic acid.
In particular, food consumption in China is basically of the ‘high-grain diet’ type, with insufficient animal foods and significantly lower protein supplies. The development of edible insect protein foods makes up for this deficiency. With obesity, hypertension and other urban diseases becoming younger, insects has become the pursuit of a healthy vane.
Opportunity and challenge
In fact, the history of human consumption of insects can be traced back to 3000 years ago. With the development of farming and livestock husbandry, adequate supplies of food and meat have gradually displaced mankind from the hunting and harvesting lifestyle. For a long time, people have formed an inherent concept of food and defined the line of ‘what is food and what is not food’. However, for areas where planting and livestock husbandry are relatively backward, insect eggs and insects with large amount and varieties are the main sources of food. The birth of the three major religions in the world brought the already formed food taboos into the religious system and disseminated them widely. ‘Eating insects’ is even considered as a barbaric act of ‘alternative’ and ‘disgusting’.
In modern society, with the continuous increase of population pressure and the serious shortage of resources, insects for food are gradually valued by scientists. At the Fifth Latin American Conference of Dietitians an Nutritionist in 1980, it was suggested that insects should be included as part of the food source in order to supplement human food deficiencies. Germany was the first country to start developing and using food insects. After the war, the Federal Republic of Germany responded to the severe domestic food crisis by chemically treating some shark-finned larvae into canned foods. Subsequently, France, Japan, the United States, Sweden and Mexico successively joined in the development of insect food products.
However, the modern ‘edible insect culture’ is still developing slowly. Apart from cultural traditions and religious concepts that make it hard for people to accept this new type of food temporarily, research and education in edible entomology and the relative lag of commercial promotion have also hindered the development. Some ecologists fear that rash introduction of new insect species will bring disaster to the local ecological balance. Some experts and scholars believe that the toxicological side effects of insects have not yet been given fully demonstration due to their immature theoretical research, so it is not appropriate to promote a comprehensive. In addition,the international food safety standards for insect food have not yet reached an agreement and the relevant laws and regulations still need to be improved. It seems that insects for food emerge on people’s table still take time.
Legislation can be perfected, rules can be formulated, ideas can change, but limited resources on earth can not be regenerated, and escalating demographic burden forces scientists back to nature to find new food. Insects, as an ideal substitute, we have no reason to refuse it.