By the year 2050 it has been estimated that the world’s population will surpass 9 billion people. To support a population of this size Van Huis et al. (2013) suggest that current food production will need to almost double. One of the solutions to this problem maybe the increased consumption of edible insects, particularly in the Global North (a part of the world containing countries which are more economically developed, as opposed to countries from the Global South which are not). Arguments exploring the nutritional and global food security benefits of eating edible insects will be discussed, as well as current barriers to increased consumption in the Global North.
Insects are nutritious
Edible Insects are a good source of protein and fibre. Glover & Sexton (2015) inform that the proportion of protein per 100g of various edible insect species compares favourably with that from mammals. Supporting evidence is displayed in figure 1:
Rumpold & Schluter (2013) further expand on this argument. They were able to conduct a study on 236 species of edible insects to assess nutritional content. From their research they discovered that just 100g of caterpillars provided 76% of the daily required amount of proteins and nearly 100% of the daily recommended amount of vitamins for humans. Rumpold & Schluter (2013) concluded that edible insects can contribute to world food security (food security relates to a persons reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food), however they highlighted the need for further research into the potential toxic hazards present in some insects, putting forward the need for controlled farming which could limit potential dangers. With the correct farming methods in place, production can be increased and hazards controlled. This will enable the nutritious benefits of insect consumption to be enjoyed be a greater audience, especially in the Global North, further strengthening global food security.
Edible insect consumption is good for global food security as well as the environment
Van Huis et al. (2013) explain that whilst edible insects are nutritious, their consumption is also good for global food security. As the demand for food production looks set to rise, particularly in the Global North, limited resources such as land and water will inevitability feel the pressure from conventional farming methods. Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) show that livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land use (FAO, 2006). Sachs (2010) argues that this is also a major contributor towards climate change and highlights the need for the development of alternative, more environmentally friendly sources of food, such as edible insects.
A report by Collavo et al. (2005) found that edible insects such as Crickets only require 1.7kg of feed for every 1kg of live animal weight produced. This contrasts with Smil’s (2002) research who found cattle were over 5 times less productive, requiring over 10kg of feed for every 1kg of live animal weight produced. The FAO (2012) report that 33% of cropland worldwide is used for livestock feed production, with much of this land being in the Global North. See figure 2:
Increased use of edible insects for food could halve the amount of cropland used to feed livestock, freeing up land which in turn can be used to feed humans. This will improve food security not just in the Global North, but also in the Global South. As Rakotoarisoa et al (2012) report, a nominal percentage of the food produced in the Global North is exported to countries located in the Global South, particularly in Africa. Such food will become more freely available and cost less as a result, ultimately improving the long term sustainability of countries reliant on imports of food to feed their populations.
Figure 3 below produced by Van Huis et al. (2013) further supports the above arguments. It shows that edible insect consumption also produce’s far less wastage when compared to conventional livestock, thus strengthening the argument for increased insect production and consumption to strengthen global food security. See figure 3:
The ‘Yuck Factor’
Despite arguments for the nutritional, environmental and global food security benefits of edible insects discussed earlier, a major factor prohibiting increased worldwide consumption, particularly in the Global North is what Jopson (2017) calls the ‘Yuck Factor’. He draws on the ideas put forward by Van Huis et al. (2013) in their report, stating that culturally in the Global North, people are not ‘programmed’ to eat insects. Pliner & Salvy (2006) build on this argument, attributing the disgust to be purely psychological, based predominantly on the fear of insects and not nutritional content. Pliner & Salvy (2006) therefore argue that people may eventually be persuaded to eat edible insects. They attribute this view to a study conducted on Lobster consumption. Originally seen as a food for the poor (much like insects are viewed by the Global North today), the Lobster is now a highly prized delicacy in many western nations.
Research conducted by Vernon & Berenbaum (2004) supports and expands on claims by Pliner & Salvy (2006). In a study of 50 college students they found that social attitudes towards edible insects could be improved through greater education and direct experiences. The results from this study were found to be significant, and the researchers found that there was less than a 5% probability that they occurred by chance. Significant research findings surrounding solutions to the ‘Yuck Factor’ will no doubt aid in the increased consumption of edible insects if utilised correctly, giving hope that change will eventually happen.
Based on the topics explored it seems that the consumption of edible insects will help to increase global food security, especially in the Global North. As discussed within the literature, limitations to worldwide edible insect consumption are factors that can be overcome by introducing more controlled farming methods and changing social attitudes. With this in mind one may therefore argue in line with the concluding thoughts of Van Huis et al. (2013) that it is only a matter of time before the Global North sees a shift to increased consumption of edible insects.