When thinking about what to write for this quarter’s issue of The BeZine’s theme of sustainABILITY, I went in search of possible solutions to food insecurity/famine around the world. All humans need food (and water!) to survive. You may have heard a little about the idea of eating insects (Entomophagy) but it’s not something that has really been overly publicized or shared on social media as a viable solution here in the West. And yet, “it is widely estimated that insects are currently regularly consumed by about two billion people, around a quarter of the world’s population.” https://guides.loc.gov/entomophagy .
Astounded, I embarked on a rabbit-hole journey of discovery. I like bugs, generally, with some exceptions, and the idea of them as a food source is kind of fascinating to me. Yes, there is revulsion, too, but I think a lot of that is probably because of my western culture upbringing.
There are people out there who care about “food insecurity” (famine) and areas of the world that suffer from it and are trying to help find a solution. In fact, it’s one of the biggest threats to humans created by Climate Change (aside from water scarcity becoming more common). That’s one of the largest reasons driving this research into whether or not insects could be an answer.
There are so many places in the world where they can’t raise “traditional” farm animals (cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.), and in the places where they CAN, a lot of those places don’t have the water or food resources left over to do it (raise farm animals). The amount of water alone needed to raise farm animals and the food they need to eat is unreal (especially if that water is also needed by people).
This is also a good article about it: It May Be Uncomfortable, But We Need to Talk About It: The Animal Agriculture Industry and Zero Waste
You may never quit eating meat, but it’s a very real problem, and we’ve (humans) been kicking the can down the road for a while, now. It’s part of what is driving the push for edible insects – a sustainable food model.
Regarding the safety of eating insects, it’s a complicated problem. It depends a lot on whether or not the bugs are “wild caught” or “farm raised”. If catching the bugs from the wild and eating them, you run the risks of ingesting pesticide residues, heavy metals and parasites or bacteria. But the biggest safety risk, is allergens (whether wild caught or farm raised) – similar to the allergy that people have when eating crustaceans or seafood. Many people aren’t even aware they’re allergic until they EAT the food, and by then, it could be too late. You also have the problem of stable “shelf life” and how long the bugs can be stored as food. If farm-raised, you must be aware of mycotoxins (molds), which can grow on the food that the bugs eat and be ingested.
There are some plainly false posts and videos out there, claiming that it’s not safe to eat bugs, but as the Library of Congress Research Guides show, people have been eating bugs for tens of thousands of years. Regarding the claim that eating chitin is like eating ground up glass particles, that is simply not true. There is concern of ground up chitin being inhaled as a possible allergen, but not actual consumption by eating.
“Chitin Is Not Glass
Chitin, a material found in insects’ exoskeletons, is mostly composed of calcium carbonate. Silicate glass is a type of glass that is both hard and light. As a result, chitin is technically a glass-free material. ” The scientific breakdown of exactly what makes up chitin and what it is (amino acid chains and polymers), are here: https://biobubblepets.com/chitin-the-building-block-of-insect-exoskeletons/
Here’s another example of one of the misleading posts out there (mainly on social media). It’s good to take things you read on social media with a grain of salt, and even better, to fact check the claims.
Eating crickets can also actually be beneficial to the human gut microbial biome: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-29032-2
This is a REALLY good (but long) overview article that discusses the pros and cons of eating insects: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235236461930046X
It does point out that more research needs to be done, so it’s not the “end all, be all” about the issue. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has done in-depth studies of edible insects and covers all of the above concerns and more, if you care to look at it. This .pdf is 108 pages, but the safety concerns start on page 15. https://www.fao.org/3/cb4094en/cb4094en.pdf
There is quite a bit of scientific, peer-reviewed research already done and currently being done on the matter. I would suggest trusting THOSE sources more than social media. Yes, more investigation needs to be done, but so far, the idea seems to have merit. If it can help alleviate famine in the poorer parts of the world AND be sustainable, then I think those are good goals. 🙂
Will I ever eat bugs willingly? Perhaps. I’ll take off the legs, though, and maybe the head, too. And I absolutely draw the line at roaches. 🤢